“There is overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos,” reads a lawsuit recently filed by several public health groups.
That’s true. Asbestos was once in use throughout the American economy, although there was suspicion it was potentially harmful. It was finally recognized as a human carcinogen (cancer causer) in the 1970s. It has been shown to cause the deadly lung cancer mesothelioma, along with other cancers, and certain non-malignant lung diseases like asbestosis
The Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of asbestos in 1989. However, a federal court of appeals overturned that ban two years later, and asbestos is still used in several industries. Even some household products contain asbestos.
The public health groups currently suing the EPA include the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, the American Public Health Association, the Center for Environmental Health, the Environmental Working Group and the Environmental Health Strategy Center.
How much asbestos is in the products we use?
One group to ask about the levels of asbestos in products would be the EPA. The agency’s 2011 Chemical Data Reporting rule required all companies to report how much asbestos was in the products they sell. However, in 2017, the Trump administration exempted the Occidental Chemical Corporation from the rule, saying that “reporting is not required for ‘naturally occurring chemical substances'” like asbestos.
Last year, these same five groups filed a petition asking the EPA to get rid of the “naturally occurring chemical substances” loophole, but the EPA refused. The agency claimed that requiring the reporting of naturally occurring chemical substances like asbestos would provide no new information, as it is “aware of all ongoing uses of asbestos and already has the information.”
This is why the groups are suing. They claim that the EPA is demonstrably not aware of all uses of asbestos, as the substance was discovered in 2017 in items such as crayons and makeup that are not supposed to contain it.
The groups claim that the EPA is in violation of its own Chemical Data Reporting rule, along with the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Administrative Procedures Act. They are asking the court to declare that asbestos poses an unreasonable risk to human health and to order the EPA to set a new policy that would require the reporting of asbestos.
Asbestos may be naturally occurring, but that doesn’t make it any less toxic. Don’t we need to know who is using it, in what products, and whether it is necessary? Why would the EPA limit its own information on the topic?