Under the Obama Administration, The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was updated to give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) more authority to ban asbestos completely in the United States. The carcinogen was originally banned in 1989, but by 1991 the ruling was over-turned. Anti-asbestos advocates have been fighting ever since to ban all uses of asbestos, and with the 2016 amendments to the TSCA, hope was restored that the EPA would take dangers of asbestos seriously. By December 2017, the EPA released a list of 10 high-risk chemicals to be evaluated for potential health and environmental risks; asbestos is one of those substances on that list.
In June 2018, EPA head Scott Pruitt announced that when the EPA evaluates the dangers of asbestos, it will not take into consideration the health risks of asbestos that is already in place. Much of the asbestos that can be found today is in homes built before 1980 and can be found in insulation, siding, tiles, adhesives, and piping. Under this new rule, homes and businesses that contain the carcinogen won’t be accounted for. By not taking this type of exposure into consideration when evaluating the health risks associated with asbestos, data could potentially be skewed to favor those who believe asbestos is perfectly safe and there will be no way of knowing how much contamination still exists in the United States.
When asbestos cases were first coming to trial, those suffering from asbestos caused- diseases such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis, often had worked with the substance previously. These individuals worked in steel mills, power plants, mines, textile and manufacturing plants, and shipyards. However, in 1990, scientists and researchers theorized what they called a “third wave” of asbestos disease, which affects those in the construction industry and the general public who are exposed to asbestos through building demolition and home renovation.
Anti-asbestos advocates believe this is a major step back on the journey to ban asbestos and are concerned that under the Trump administration, all of the progress made so far will be undone, and asbestos will not be banned in the United States any time soon.
Asbestos-related illnesses account for up to 15,000 deaths each year in the United States alone. Approximately 3,000 of those deaths are from malignant mesothelioma – an incurable, aggressive cancer caused only by asbestos exposure. The latency period between the time of asbestos exposure and illness can range anywhere from 10 to 40 years, so those who were exposed to asbestos decades ago, are now just learning of their illness.
There is no cure for mesothelioma; however, those suffering can often participate in clinical trials, which aim to find new and effective techniques for treatment.
Kara Holsopple, “Asbestos is Killing People. Why Hasn’t the Government Banned It?” WESA (August 3, 2018). [Link]