U.S. Government May Consider New Uses for Asbestos

New measures outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may allow asbestos to return to broader use, despite the material being synonymous with deadly diseases like lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Experts are concerned that the EPA’s new regulations may pave the way for the material to be used in new applications and may not consider the “downstream” environmental aspects of indirect contact with the material.

The natural mineral fiber, which is a documented carcinogen, has been linked to mesothelioma, a deadly form of lung cancer. It has also been linked to asbestosis, which creates scarring in the lungs from inhaling the particulates. More than 500 people alone from West Virginia died from mesothelioma and asbestosis between 1999 and 2013.

Two pieces of EPA policy regarding asbestos have stirred controversy.

The EPA first restricted guidelines in April that prevents the agency from considering the effects of asbestos in the environment when assessing the risk of high-priority substances, which includes asbestos. The agency will only focus on the effects of direct human contact.

Failure to take into account the effects of asbestos entering the water, air, and soil puts consumer protection at risk.

In addition, the EPA has also proposed considering possible new uses for the material on a case-by-case basis. The “new-use” rule is limited to 15 specific uses that would trigger federal oversight. Experts, including some within the EPA, speculate that the language may limit oversight on new asbestos use outside of these 15 uses.

Senator Tom Udall has spoken out against the new proposed rules in a statement issued on August 14. Udall says the EPA is “proposing to conduct a risk evaluation that excludes among the most common exposures to the known carcinogen asbestos.” He adds that the “EPA is ignoring the risk posed by asbestos present in countless homes and buildings.”

Udall has called for the EPA to ban the substance altogether.