EPA finds asbestos poses cancer risks for workers, reigniting calls for ban

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that asbestos poses an unreasonable risk of cancer to both workers and consumers who inhale it, ramping up pressure on the agency to ban the substance.  In a draft risk assessment published this week, the EPA said that workers who inhale asbestos from certain uses of the substance in the Chlor-alkali industry, chemical production industry, oil industry and automotive industry had risks of lung cancer and mesothelioma.  It also found that consumers who were exposed to asbestos from automotive brakes and linings had these risks. 

The analysis comes nearly a year after the agency finalized a rule which it says will limit the use of asbestos. Critics, however, say that the rule could open the door to some uses since it stopped short of banning it.  The EPA has said the rule closes a loophole from a 30-year-old law that prevented the agency from limiting the sale of some asbestos products.  This week’s assessment heightened the calls for a ban. 

“It is now clear that this EPA has no intention of addressing this dangerous, proven carcinogen,” said a statement from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.).  “Therefore, Congress must pass the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act and put an end to this public health threat once and for all,” he added, referring to legislation that would ban asbestos.   Linda Reinstein, president and co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, also called for a ban on the substance. 

“That EPA found this level of risk, despite the severe limitations and deficiencies of their evaluation speaks volumes,” she said in a statement. “We have repeatedly noted their flawed approach fails to fully recognize and evaluate the public health threat of asbestos which is why Americans can’t wait for the EPA to get it right.”  An EPA spokesperson told The Hill in a statement that “one of EPA’s priorities is to protect the public from adverse health effects of asbestos.” 

“The draft risk evaluation represents the agency’s initial review of the scientific data on this chemical and will be peer reviewed by independent, scientific experts as well as open for public comment,” the spokesperson said, noting that the analysis was only a draft.   Officials have known for decades that asbestos causes illnesses including lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.  “If there is any unreasonable risk, the EPA will regulate, and our regulation could take the form of a ban,” an EPA official told The Hill last year