Op-Ed: EPA Opens the Door to a Silent Killer — Asbestos
NOTE: Walter Pacheco is the managing editor of Asbestos.com. This article represents his opinions.
The Environmental Protection Agency would like you to think it is taking an “unprecedented” stand against the hazards of asbestos, the mineral that kills nearly 40,000 Americans each year from mesothelioma, lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases.
It is not.
In fact, on June 1, the EPA announced a significant new use rule (SNUR) that will allow companies to manufacture, import and process new asbestos-containing products after it evaluates their potential health dangers.
The standards to evaluate those health risks, which are included in a nearly 1,500-page document, will focus on possible harm from direct contact with asbestos at the workplace or elsewhere.
Prior to this policy change, the EPA imposed strict regulations on the use of asbestos and banned any new uses. Why? Because more than 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Mesothelioma is a hidden killer.
It takes 20 to 50 years for the first symptoms to show up, and when they do, most patients are in the later stages of the disease and can die in less than two years if they are not undergoing specialized treatments.
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Firsthand Asbestos Accounts
I hear from mesothelioma patients and their families every day.
Patients can hardly breathe. Some can’t swallow certain foods. Their wives, daughters, sons and other family members also suffer because they don’t know how they can help. It’s a debilitating and fast-acting disease.
Lorraine Kember lost her husband to mesothelioma in 2001.
“I will never forget the pain and suffering this devastating disease caused Brian, or his brave attempt to survive it. During his two years of survival, mesothelioma robbed him of everything he once enjoyed in life,” Kember told me. “Time has eased the pain of my loss, but I still feel anger whenever I hear the word ‘asbestos.’”
Effects of Ignoring Asbestos Legacy Uses
The loosening of asbestos regulations will relax manufacturers’ obligation to keep their products free of toxic mineral. Even with the current restrictions, asbestos sneaks into our lives.
Just last year, makeup products marketed to children were pulled off retailers’ shelves after independent labs discovered the cosmetics contained asbestos.
Despite those fearful news accounts and stunning statistics, asbestos is not banned in the U.S. as it is in more than 60 other countries including the U.K. and Australia. Canada is now working to ban asbestos.
Another serious safety concern is the EPA’s approach to determine the safety risk of new asbestos products. The agency will ignore any of the potential exposure from airborne fibers, asbestos in water and the more than 20 billion pounds of asbestos dumped each year in landfills and waste sites across the nation.
It also doesn’t consider the possible asbestos lurking inside our homes or our children’s schools. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, elementary and secondary schools ranked second for mesothelioma deaths in 1999.
Why is it important to include those sites? They help us understand how asbestos kills us.
Asbestos is deadly when its fibers become airborne. If the mineral is in a landfill, dump site or in our homes, it can be damaged in a home renovation, disturbed when moving other landfill debris or contaminate water runoff.
Excluding these sites will limit the EPA’s ability to review the full scope of the dangers of asbestos.
Take Action Against Asbestos Policy
You have until Friday to let the EPA know how you feel about its policy change on new asbestos uses.
Let the EPA know that instead of restricting asbestos use and banning new uses, they are taking the “unprecedented” action of opening the door to new asbestos products that could harm your children, your friends, your family and you.