Allowing Asbestos to Continue Killing

The town of Libby is a striking and tragic example of corporate irresponsibility, weak regulation and the deadly effects of asbestos exposure. And it’s not just Libby. Nationally, the epidemic of deaths from asbestos exposure shows no sign of slowing down — it’s estimated that nearly 40,000 people die from asbestos exposure each year in the USA alone.

Asbestos is a known human carcinogen and experts agree that no amount of use of the toxin is safe. The European Union already prohibits its use, and despite this ominous classification, the United States is woefully lagging behind in the banning of asbestos.

Asbestos-related deaths in the United States demonstrate how our regulatory system for managing chemicals in the U.S. — known as the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) — has failed to protect the public. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tried to ban asbestos in 1980s, but despite the overwhelming evidence of its deadliness, a court ruled in 1991 that the EPA failed to clear all the hurdles under this law.

When Congress passed bipartisan legislation in 2016 strengthening TSCA, many thought it would pave the way to banning asbestos use in the U.S. In fact, that was the intention under the newly strengthened TSCA and the accompanying regulations written by the Obama administration.

Under the Trump administration, the EPA issued a significant new use rule (SNUR) which opens the door to allowing old uses of asbestos to return to commerce. Given the scientific community’s consensus that no amount of use of asbestos is safe, allowing these old deadly uses to resume will surely mean more lives lost. And the sad reality is that if imports of the toxin are not banned, manufacturers will continue to use it.

What’s even more frightening is that we don’t have a clear picture of how much asbestos is entering the United States because manufacturers are not required to report this information to the EPA. In an effort to change this, a petition was recently submitted to the agency by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and co-signed by Montana-based Women’s Voices for the Earth.

The petition asks the EPA to use their new authority under TSCA to require importers of asbestos-containing materials to report the quantity of the toxin and the types of products it’s found in. Without this information, we have no idea who is importing the chemical or where it’s being used, making it very difficult to limit exposure or even assess the risk posed to workers, who are often disproportionately impacted, and the public. Of course, the end goal isn’t just to secure our right to know where it’s being used — it is to ban asbestos.

The Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2017 (SB 2072) has been introduced in Congress that would give the EPA the authority to ban asbestos. U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is an original co-sponsor of the bill. U.S. Sen. Steve Daines has not signed on as a co-sponsor.

The people of Libby are living out a horrible tragedy, and they deserve for it to mean something more. They deserve for it to result in a change that will protect others from enduring the same illness and loss. We cannot simply let the town be a cautionary tale of what happens when regulations don’t go far enough to protect public health, even when there is clear evidence of danger. We need to act. We need our leaders to act and finally ban the import and use of this insidious toxin.

Jamie McConnell is the interim executive director, and the director of programs and policy at Missoula-based Women’s Voices for the Earth.

This column originally appeared in The Missoulian. 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
R. G. Davis
Paul Krassner: Investigative Satirist
Negin Owliaei
Red State Rip Off: Cutting Worker Pay by $1.5 Billion
Christopher Brauchli
The Side of Trump We Rarely See
Curtis Johnson
The Unbroken Line: From Slavery to the El Paso Shooting
Jesse Jackson
End Endless War and Bring Peace to Korea
Adolf Alzuphar
Diary: What About a New City Center?
Tracey L. Rogers
Candidates Need a Moral Vision
Nicky Reid
I Was a Red Flag Kid
John Kendall Hawkins
The Sixties Victory Lap in an Empty Arena
Stephen Cooper
Tony Chin’s Unstoppable, Historic Career in Music
Charles R. Larson
Review: Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime
Elizabeth Keyes
Haiku Fighting