Why is EPA proposing relaxed asbestos rules?

6 Aug 2008 by under News, Organizations

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) Asbestos Committee held public meetings July 21 and 22 in Washington, D.C., to discuss changes in the way it measures the risk posed by inhalation exposure to asbestos. Results of this meeting are coming under fire, as environmental groups, labor safety leaders, physicians, scientists and politicians object to the EPA’s proposed revised evaluation standards.

According to recent report in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, there were 20 experts appointed to the SAB’s asbestos panel, charged with evaluating the validity of the EPA’s plan to change how the toxicity of the six types of asbestos regulated by the government differ in danger. Its findings would be submitted to the (OMB).

According to the PI report, scientific advisors say the EPA used the asbestos panel to submit new studies that contradict longstanding research into the dangers of asbestos. The new studies say chrysolite, in particular, the most common type of asbestos, isn’t dangerous and doesn’t cause mesothelioma.

PI quotes Dr. David Egilman, an occupational medicine specialist, who testified at the public meeting, as saying the new study was financed by mining and other asbestos-related industries, and said the studies have no scientific credibility.

Another vocal spokesperson at the hearing was Sen. Patty Murray, who sponsored S. 742, the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007, which passed the Senate on Oct. 4, 2007. Currently, it is the companion bill to H.R. 3339, the Bruce Vento Ban Asbestos and Prevent Mesothelioma Act, sponsored by Rep. Betty McCollum, which currently is in committee in the House of Representatives.

Sen. Murray has long been an advocate for a total asbestos ban, calling for better worker protection. The PI quotes Sen. Murray as telling the committee, “I’d like the political appointees at the EPA to look into the eyes of a mesothelioma patient and say that asbestos isn’t dangerous. It appears that this administration is once again putting politics before public health.” Murray is currently chairwoman of the Senate Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee.

The EPA asserts the new system is needed to improve how asbestos-contaminated Superfund sites are evaluated. The organization can move forward with its proposal without approval from the OMB or the SAB, if it so chooses.

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