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
March 22, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
The Ghost of Fascism in the Post-Truth Era
Gabriel Rockhill
Spectacular Violence as a Weapon of War Against the Yellow Vests
H. Bruce Franklin
Trump vs. McCain: an American Horror Story
Paul Street
A Pox on the Houses of Trump and McCain, Huxleyan Media, and the Myth of “The Vietnam War”
Andrew Levine
Why Not Impeach?
Bruce E. Levine
Right-Wing Psychiatry, Love-Me Liberals and the Anti-Authoritarian Left
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Darn That (American) Dream
Charles Pierson
Rick Perry, the Saudis and a Dangerous Nuclear Deal
Moshe Adler
American Workers Should Want to Transfer Technology to China
David Rosen
Trafficking or Commercial Sex? What Recent Exposés Reveal
Nick Pemberton
The Real Parallels Between Donald Trump and George Orwell
Binoy Kampmark
Reading Manifestos: Restricting Brenton Tarrant’s The Great Replacement
NATO’s Expensive Anniversaries
Joseph Grosso
New York’s Hudson Yards: The Revanchist City Lives On
Is It Really So Shocking?
Bob Lord
There’s Plenty of Wealth to Go Around, But It Doesn’t
Christy Rodgers
Achieving Escape Velocity
Monika Zgustova
Jessicah Pierre
The Real College Admissions Scandal
Peter Mayo
US Higher Education Influence Takes a Different Turn
Martha Rosenberg
New Study Confirms That Eggs are a Stroke in a Shell
Ted Rall
The Greatest Projects I Never Mad
George Wuerthner
Saving the Big Wild: Why Aren’t More Conservationists Supporting NREPA?
Norman Solomon
Reinventing Beto: How a GOP Accessory Became a Top Democratic Contender for President
Ralph Nader
Greedy Boeing’s Avoidable Design and Software Time Bombs
Tracey L. Rogers
White Supremacy is a Global Threat
Nyla Ali Khan
Intersectionalities of Gender and Politics in Indian-Administered Kashmir
Karen J. Greenberg
Citizenship in the Age of Trump: Death by a Thousand Cuts
Jill Richardson
Getting It Right on What Stuff Costs
Pacific Odyssey: Puddle Jumping in New Britain
Matt Johnson
The Rich Are No Smarter Than You
Julian Vigo
College Scams and the Ills of Capitalist-Driven Education
Brian Wakamo
It’s March Madness, Unionize the NCAA!
Beth Porter
Paper Receipts Could be the Next Plastic Straws
Christopher Brauchli
Eric the Heartbroken
Louis Proyect
Rebuilding a Revolutionary Left in the USA
Sarah Piepenburg
Small Businesses Like Mine Need Paid Family and Medical Leave
Robert Koehler
Putting Our Better Angels to Work
Peter A. Coclanis
The Gray Lady is Increasingly Tone-Deaf
David Yearsley
March 21, 2019
Daniel Warner
And Now Algeria
Renee Parsons
The Supreme Court and Dual Citizenship
Eric Draitser
On Ilhan Omar, Assad Fetishism, and the Danger of Red-Brown “Anti-Imperialism”
Elizabeth Keyes
Broadway’s “Hamilton” and the Willing Suspension of Reality-Based Moral Consciousness
David Underhill
Optional Fatherhood Liberates Christians From Abortion Jihad