Former EPA Heads Call for Asbestos Ban

environmental protection agency building

While legislation seeking to ban asbestos recently moved from a House subcommittee to a full committee, two past Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators decried the current agency and demanded passage of the bill.

Harsh Words for Current EPA in New York Times Op-Ed

Gina McCarthy and William K. Reilly wrote a scathing op-ed in the New York Times criticizing the current EPA leadership and presidential administration over the handling of the asbestos crisis in the United States.

The two put their weight behind the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act (ARBAN) that numerous democratic legislators introduced in March.

“Like the varmints in an old western movie, some rattlesnakes just won’t stay dead. We thought we had relieved America of a death-dealing substance, asbestos, but it keeps finding its way into lungs with the aid of an accomplice,” said the veteran environmental proponents in the editorial.

McCarthy, the EPA’s 13th administrator, and Reilly the sixth, asserted that the EPA currently stands as a friend to cancer-causing asbestos which claims the lives of an estimated 40,000 Americans each year.

“It is painfully clear that despite the passage of the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act in 2016, which gave the EPA the authority and responsibility to address exposures to harmful chemicals, the current EPA is simply not going to do its job and ban asbestos,” the editorial continued.

Former EPA Duo Championed Asbestos Ban

During their tenure, the two administrators fought hard to rid the country of the deadly substance. The op-ed chronicles their efforts, citing a 1989 ruling ten years in the making, that set a seven-year timeline to ban most asbestos uses under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Only two years later a federal appeals court overturned the agency ban after the asbestos industry filed a lawsuit challenging the ruling.

The Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act restored the teeth of the EPA, but McCarthy and Reilly say the Trump-led agency “excluded from consideration important pathways of exposure and uses.”

Current Asbestos Rules Dangerously Lacking

Those pathways include construction materials used prior to the 1970s built into the infrastructure of millions of homes, exposure of firefighters when they enter burning buildings, and the deadly asbestos fibers in children’s products like crayons.

Cancers like ovarian, colorectal, stomach, esophagus, larynx, and pharynx, scientifically connected to asbestos, also have been disregarded.

Rather than ban asbestos imports from countries that still manufacture the lethal material, the current administration instead created a minimal requirement. The EPA needs only to be notified when there is a resumption of a discontinued use of the killer fibers.

The editorial continued with startling information that the United States lags behind almost 70 other countries who have banned asbestos.

And worse, it cited the statistic that the U.S. imported twice as much raw asbestos in 2018 than it did the year before. The lethal mineral entered the country for use in the creation of chlorine and caustic soda produced at 15 chemical plants who have resisted non-asbestos technology.

ARBAN Act in Summary

Through the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act, supporters seek to put an end to Americans dying of mesothelioma, a fatal disease caused by asbestos exposure.

The legislation encompasses four areas to achieve this end:

  • Ban the importation, manufacture, processing, and distribution of asbestos
  • Disclosure of use for importers, processors, and distributors
  • Required governmental studies indicating risks of asbestos in homes and buildings built prior to the 1970s
  • These requirements to be imposed on every form of asbestos

“It’s outrageous that in the year 2019, asbestos is still allowed in the United States,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, one of the bill sponsors. “While the EPA fiddles, Americans are dying. It’s time for us to catch up to the rest of the developed world, and ban this dangerous public health threat once and for all.

McCarthy and Reilly end their editorial with a strong call to action:

“Congress should do what this EPA has failed to do: consider all the science and ban asbestos once and for all. Pass the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act, save tens of thousands of lives and close the book on asbestos for good.”

Author:Beth Swantek

Contributing Author at the Mesothelioma Justice Center

Beth Swantek

Beth Swantek has been writing about the dangers of asbestos since 2013. Beth served as a media professional for over 30 years and began her career as a broadcast journalist. After her daughter suffered a traumatic brain injury at birth, Beth has devoted her life to helping men and women experiencing deep loss — such as those living with mesothelioma.

Last modified: December 6, 2019

View 3 Sources
  1. McCarthy, G. and Reilly, W.K. (2019, Oct. 15). Asbestos Kills Nearly 40,000 Americans a Year. Ban It. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/15/opinion/asbestos-epa-trump.html
  2. Press Release from Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. (2019, Oct. 15). Democratic and Republican Former EPA Administrators Join Forces to Call for Passage of Asbestos Legislation. Retrieved from:
    https://www.asbestosdiseaseawareness.org/newsroom/blogs/adao-press-release-democratic-and-republican-former-epa-administrators-join-forces-to-call-for-passage-of-asbestos-legislation/
  3. Press Release from Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. (2019, Mar. 5). U.S. Senate and House of Representative Introduce the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2019 (ARBAN)—Bill would ban asbestos importation and use within one year of enactment. Retrieved from:whttps://www.asbestosdiseaseawareness.org/newsroom/blogs/u-s-senate-and-house-of-representatives-introduced-the-alan-reinstein-ban-asbestos-now-act-of-2019-arban-bill-would-ban-asbestos-importation-and-use-within-one-year-of-enactment/