Asbestos — a material that is estimated to kill 40,000 Americans each year — could be making a comeback thanks to an Environmental Protection Agency proposal that would greenlight wider use of the product.
The known carcinogen is currently heavily restricted, but under the EPA’s “significant new use rule” proposed on July 1, manufacturers can petition the agency to manufacture asbestos on a case-by-case basis, determined by use.
These new uses will include “adhesives, sealants, and roof and non-roof coatings; arc chutes; beater-add gaskets; extruded sealant tape and other tape; filler for acetylene cylinders; high-grade electrical paper; millboard; missile liner; pipeline wrap; reinforced plastics; roofing felt; separators in fuel cells and batteries; vinyl-asbestos floor tile; and any other building material (other than cement).”
This comes after the EPA, led by former director Scott Pruitt, evaluated asbestos for the first time as part of an Obama-era law mandating they be tested to determine whether they should further be controlled.
But under President Donald Trump, the criteria for assessing the harm of the asbestos did not test its effect on the air, ground, and water, the New York Times reports. Instead, the evaluation solely included the results of coming into direct contact with the material.
“It is ridiculous,” said Wendy Cleland- Hamnett, a former head of the EPA toxic chemicals unit, to the New York Times. “You can’t determine if there is an unreasonable risk without doing a comprehensive risk evaluation.”
Trump is known to be an asbestos supporter, writing in his 1997 book, “The Art of the Comeback” that they are “100% safe, once applied.” He also believed that the push to limit asbestos use was due to the mob, which received a lot of contracts for the material’s removal, the Guardian reported. In 2012, Trump tweeted that the twin towers would never have fallen if they had been built with asbestos.
The material, made up of tiny fibers, was used in construction until the 1970s, when studies showed that it was responsible for several diseases. Those who come into contact with the fibers are at a greater risk for developing mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, pleural effusion, and pleural plaque, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Asbestos are banned in 60 countries and its use had declined in the United States once the health risks became known. But a Russian asbestos company is celebrating Trump’s love of the carcinogen, branding his face on their product in July. “Approved by Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States” the seal surrounding his face reads, reports the Washington Post.
Critics say that the administration should be tightening its restrictions, not opening them.
"I think that we need to look at an absolute ban," Mary Hesdorffer, executive director of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation told NBC News. "We're supposed to be a leading nation, setting an example. We have really let down all of our partners by not banning this substance, there's just no excuse because there's no doubt — it's a known carcinogen."
The EPA defended the rule to NBC News.
"The press reports on this issue are inaccurate,” contended the spokesperson.
“Without the proposed Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) EPA would not have a regulatory basis to restrict manufacturing and processing for the new asbestos uses covered by the rule. The EPA action would prohibit companies from manufacturing, importing, or processing for these new uses of asbestos unless they receive approval from the EPA.”
The proposal is open for public comment until August 11.
In other asbestos-related news, a group that conducts annual toxicity tests of toys and school supplies found trace elements of the material in Playskool crayons sold at Dollar Tree, CBS reports.