Scientists and the United States government have known about the dangers of asbestos for decades. The mineral’s fire-resistant fibers can get stuck in clothing and trapped within the human body. It’s a known carcinogen and the leading cause of malignant mesothelioma. So why doesn’t the Environmental Protection Agency simply ban asbestos?
That’s one question at the heart of a new lawsuit. According to Reuters, Minnesota, nine other states and Washington D.C. sued the EPA to tighten its asbestos regulations. And this lawsuit comes not long after The New York Times reported that the EPA offered its latest asbestos regulations with a clear disregard for its experts’ recommendations.
What’s at stake?
For many years, people used asbestos for fireproofing and insulation. But as scientists became more aware of the substance’s harmful effects, the EPA phased out many of its legal uses. In April, the EPA released a new set of standards it claimed would better protect the public from asbestos. However, those standards fell far short of the complete ban recommended by the agency’s experts. The experts wanted a ban because they said its harmful effects far outweighed any benefits, citing:
- The tens of thousands of Americans who suffer asbestos-related deaths each year
- The cancers it causes, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer and stomach cancer
- The growing number of countries that have banned asbestos use
- The billions of dollars it costs to clean up asbestos after faulty construction or repairs to older buildings
- The number of cases that fall through the cracks when no one agency has proper jurisdiction
- The fact that current guidelines don’t address all the newer uses of asbestos
The EPA’s experts also noted that the regulations focused on just six types of asbestos fibers, even though scientists have recently discovered more than six asbestos fibers.
Who will fight for public health if the EPA doesn’t?
According to Reuters, the states suing the EPA claim the agency’s policies have been “arbitrary and capricious.” They say the agency hasn’t lived up to its obligations under the Toxic Substances Control Act, but it’s not certain how the courts will rule. In the meantime, under the current administration, the EPA has relaxed many of its regulatory standards. And people may need to look elsewhere for protection against asbestos and other harmful substances.