Peer Review Finds EPA’s Asbestos Risk Evaluation Flawed

Asbestos Exposure & Bans
Reading Time: 4 mins
Publication Date: 09/02/2020

Written by Tim Povtak

The Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals found considerable failings and an underestimation of danger to the general public in a draft risk evaluation of asbestos submitted earlier this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

SACC, which serves as a scientific, peer-review mechanism for the EPA, released its recommendations last week in the ongoing governmental reevaluation of asbestos.

This is the latest step in the amended Toxic Substances Control Act that requires the EPA to conduct evaluations on specific chemicals to determine whether they present unreasonable risk under conditions of use.

The committee was comprised of 14 scientists, medical doctors and Ph.D.s from around the country, along with another 10 ad hoc peer reviewers with asbestos experience.

SACC’s ad hoc panel had several members who routinely testify on behalf of plaintiffs in asbestos litigation, but no experts who testify on behalf of defendants. They met for four days in June to dissect the EPA’s original draft risk evaluation of the dangers of asbestos exposure.

“Overall, EPA’s environmental and human health risk evaluations for asbestos was not considered adequate and results in low confidence in the conclusions,” according to the executive summary.

“This [draft risk evaluation] does not fit the reality of total exposure to asbestos,” the summary concluded. “The estimate for total exposure to asbestos is deficient. This DRE includes only a limited slice of the exposure.”

Final Asbestos Evaluation Could Lead to Changes

When the final evaluation is complete, the EPA will have several options. It could propose further limits on asbestos use and distribution, leave the current regulations in place, or potentially recommend a complete ban on the toxic mineral.

“We’re pleased to see the SACC report confirmed what many of us knew as soon as the draft risk evaluation was released [in March],” Brent Kynoch, managing director of the Environmental Information Association in Chevy Chase, Maryland, told The Mesothelioma Center at “The EPA’s draft evaluation contained multiple omissions and exclusions. We can no longer rely on the EPA.”

Kynoch is not part of the committee, but he participated in the public comment segment of the meeting. He is one of many who believe the U.S. Congress should legislate a comprehensive ban on asbestos.

An endorsement by the EPA in its final evaluation could play a role in any legislative changes.

Original EPA Evaluation Not Broad Enough

The EPA’s original draft risk evaluation, which examined 33 conditions of use, cited “unreasonable risk to workers, occupational non-users, consumers and bystanders” in the limited number of asbestos products still being imported and used today.

It found unreasonable risk of occupational asbestos exposure throughout the chloralkali and oil industries. It also found problems with asbestos products such as sheet gaskets, brake blocks and other vehicle friction items.

The committee agreed with many of the EPA’s findings, but said the evaluation was much too limited in scope overall. It cited several problems with the draft analysis. Among the most glaring were:

  • It did not account for the risks of legacy asbestos from products no longer produced but which are found in hundreds of thousands of older buildings across the country.
  • The analysis evaluated only the chrysotile type of asbestos — the most common — but not amphibole, crocidolite and serpentine asbestos fibers. It also did not look at other asbestos-like minerals.
  • It evaluated risks for and deaths only from mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer. It failed to explore other asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer, ovarian cancer and asbestosis.
  • There was no assessment of asbestos contamination in talc and other widely used consumer products.

Linda Reinstein, president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, was part of the public comment segment of the meeting. The organization also released a statement in response to the SACC report.

“The draft risk evaluation is a no-go,” said Reinstein. “[It] is fundamentally flawed and understates the serious risks of asbestos to public health. The U.S. needs an asbestos ban without any loopholes or exceptions.”

EPA Promising Changes to Risk Evaluation

In releasing the SACC report, the EPA said it was in the process of reviewing the recommendations and would use some of the issues to improve its final risk evaluation.

The agency said it specifically would consider legacy uses and associated disposal of asbestos in a supplemental scope document that would be released later this year.

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