Donald Trump is an asbestos denier, one of a rarefied few who makes Flat Earth believers look brilliant by throwing doubt at the connection between asbestos and lung cancer. And the EPA, Trump’s go-to agency when it comes to making day-to-day life worse for everyone, recently followed Trump’s lead by promoting a rule that makes it easier for asbestos to make its way back into consumer goods. However, as the New York Times reports, there was an agency where everyone seemed to be united against the action taken by the EPA. And it was the EPA.
Emails exchanged within the agency show the agency’s scientists, analysts, and legal staff were united in complaining that there is “no clear explanation” for the change, and in expressing concern over the possible expanded use of a toxic substance. Despite Trump’s statement that asbestos is “100 percent safe” and his claims that asbestos removal is a plot by the mob, EPA personnel had a very different position.
Asbestos is an extremely dangerous substance with no safe exposure amount.
An EPA attorney noted that the proposed rule change “raises significant concerns.” In a section dealing with compliance concerns, the attorney noted that “This new approach allows asbestos-containing products that are not currently used to be used in the future.” The new use also failed to collect sufficient data and “leaves holes” for slipping additional asbestos-based products onto the market as well as insufficiently regulating those few specialized areas where asbestos is still in use.
The principal concern that many of the interagency notes seem to address is that the new regulation would leave open not just new uses of asbestos, but that it has only a short list of previous uses that are banned. It overlooks what one agency analyst calls a “very, very long list” of uses that are no longer ongoing, and leaves open the possibility that asbestos could be evaluated for “new uses” that are actually “old uses” from which it has already been banned. And a bit of creative description on the part of manufacturers might be enough to bypass review entirely, putting asbestos directly on the shelves.
As a senior environmental scientist put it, under the new approach …
“… if EPA failed to list one of the old uses that has been discontinued, or failed to correctly anticipate some other new use, then it seems to me that the manufacture of such a product would not be subject to the SNUR.”
Which is the opposite of how former lobbyist and new EPA director Andrew Wheeler described the new rule when it said it allows for “restriction of asbestos manufacturing.” It does allow restrictions. Only those restrictions are less than the current regulation, and the interpretation of EPA’s own staff is that it puts the onus on the EPA to predict and regulate each individual use of asbestos, putting them in a constant whack-a-mole game with manufacturers who can repackage and repurpose to get around an explicit list of regulated uses.