WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an op-ed published in today’s New York Times, two former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—one from a Democratic administration; one from a Republican administration—make a forceful case for Congress to pass the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act, legislation co-led by Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici.
The op-ed, co-written by former Administrators Gina McCarthy and William K. Reilly, notes that asbestos still kills nearly 40,000 Americans per year and has not been banned, despite the fact that nearly 70 other nations have acted to protect their residents by banning asbestos. The EPA has been fully empowered to ban asbestos since 2016, but under Trump administration leadership, the agency has chosen not to. This means that congressional action will be critical to save lives.
“As former E.P.A. administrators who led the agency during pivotal moments in its long struggle to rid our society of asbestos, we can say unequivocally that this struggle will not end anytime soon unless Congress passes the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Act (Arban). This bill is advancing in the House of Representatives and, in coming days, the Energy and Commerce Committee will have an opportunity to send it to the House floor for passage with bipartisan support,” the former Administrators wrote.
“It is painfully clear that despite the passage of the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act in 2016, which gave the E.P.A. the authority and responsibility to address exposures to harmful chemicals, the current E.P.A. is simply not going to do its job and ban asbestos. We are calling on Congress to pass the Arban and ban all asbestos importation and use, without loopholes or exemptions.”
Read the full op-ed here or below.
Asbestos Kills Nearly 40,000 Americans a Year. Ban It.
The United States should follow other countries and protect its citizens from the deadly chemical, write two former E.P.A. administrators.
By Gina McCarthy and William K. Reilly
Gina McCarthy was the 13th administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. William K. Reilly was the agency’s sixth administrator.
Like the varmints in an old western movie, some rattlesnakes just won’t stay dead. We thought we had relieved America of a death-dealing substance, asbestos, but it keeps finding its way into lungs with the aid of an accomplice. This time asbestos’ friend is the Environmental Protection Agency. The same E.P.A. that created the rules to ban it. Well, maybe not the same E.P.A.
Every year, asbestos takes the lives of nearly 40,000 Americans, and thousands more face a lifetime of pain and suffering from disabling lung diseases like asbestosis and mesothelioma, yet its use remains largely unregulated in the United States.
As former E.P.A. administrators who led the agency during pivotal moments in its long struggle to rid our society of asbestos, we can say unequivocally that this struggle will not end anytime soon unless Congress passes the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Act (Arban). This bill is advancing in the House of Representatives and, in coming days, the Energy and Commerce Committee will have an opportunity to send it to the House floor for passage with bipartisan support.
It is painfully clear that despite the passage of the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act in 2016, which gave the E.P.A. the authority and responsibility to address exposures to harmful chemicals, the current E.P.A. is simply not going to do its job and ban asbestos. We are calling on Congress to pass the Arban and ban all asbestos importation and use, without loopholes or exemptions.
Asbestos is a toxic mineral that was once a mainstay of American life. It can still be found in consumer and automotive products, cosmetics, toys and construction materials. Scientists started raising red flags about the health threats of asbestos in 1906. By the 1930s, research found that one out of four workers making asbestos-containing products had signs of asbestosis. In the 1960s, groundbreaking work documented the association between asbestos exposure and cancer. Yet according to the United States Geological Survey, the United States remained one of the top five worldwide consumers of asbestos until the late 1980s.
In 1989, the E.P.A. finalized a decade-long rule-making effort that set a seven-year timeline to ban most asbestos uses under the Toxic Substances Control Act, or T.S.C.A. Regrettably, the asbestos industry filed a lawsuit challenging the rule, and a federal appeals court overturned the agency ban just two years later. That decision cut the legs out from under the E.P.A.’s ability to regulate all but the few asbestos-containing products that fell outside the scope of the industry lawsuit. It also set a precedent that was used by a variety of industries to block the agency from regulating other chemicals like phthalate esters, formaldehyde and methylene chloride that were known to pose risks to human health and the environment.
Over time, asbestos became the poster child for the failure of the T.S.C.A., sparking bipartisan support to strengthen the law. In 2016, a bipartisan majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, removing roadblocks like the cost-benefit analysis that had paralyzed the agency’s actions on asbestos. At the signing ceremony for the new law, President Barack Obama pointed to the T.S.C.A.’s failure to ban asbestos, saying that “the system was so complex, so burdensome that our country hasn’t even been able to uphold a ban on asbestos.” Unfortunately, much to the disappointment of families of asbestos victims and Congressional leaders who championed passage of the Lautenberg Act, the E.P.A. is failing to use the new tools Congress provided to ban asbestos.
The Trump E.P.A. began evaluating the risks of asbestos, but it excluded from consideration important pathways of exposure and uses. For example, the agency refused to address asbestos that remains installed in millions of homes from construction materials used in the 1950s, 60s and 70s; would not consider the exposure of firefighters when they enter burning buildings containing asbestos; and disregarded the presence of asbestos contamination in children’s products like crayons. It failed to take into account scientific information on certain types of cancers clearly linked to asbestos, including ovarian cancer; colorectal cancer; and cancers of the stomach, esophagus, larynx and pharynx.
In addition, this administration imposed a toothless requirement on importers of asbestos-containing products from countries that still use asbestos, requiring them to notify the agency before discontinued uses are resumed rather than permanently banning them from entering the United States.
Nearly 70 countries have banned asbestos in favor of safer and more economic alternatives. The Trump E.P.A.’s decision is an open invitation to bring dangerous asbestos products back into our country’s commerce. The United States imported twice as much raw asbestos in 2018 as it did in 2017 to support the manufacture of chlorine and caustic soda at 15 chemical plants that are outliers in their sector for failing to convert to cost-effective and safe non-asbestos technology. Isn’t it time — or past time — for these 15 laggards to adopt non-asbestos technology, too?
Congress should do what this E.P.A. has failed to do: consider all the science and ban asbestos once and for all. Pass the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act, save tens of thousands of lives and close the book on asbestos use for good.