Trump EPA Ignored Its Own Scientists' Calls to Ban Asbestos, 'Bombshell' Report Shows
By Jessica Corbett
In a report that elicited calls for congressional action, The New York Times revealed Wednesday that "senior officials at the Environmental Protection Agency disregarded the advice of their own scientists and lawyers in April when the agency issued a rule that restricted but did not ban asbestos."
Asbestos is a group of fibrous, heat-resistant minerals used in manufactured goods, particularly building materials. According to the World Health Organization, "All types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs)."
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement last month that the agency's new rule "gives us unprecedented authorities to protect public health" and block certain products from the market. However, environmental and public health advocates raised concerns at the time about loopholes that remain, with one critic calling the regulation "toothless."
Criticism of the rule resurfaced Wednesday when the Times reported on a pair of internal EPA memos from last August, in which more than a dozen agency experts wrote:
Rather than allow for (even with restrictions) any new uses for asbestos, EPA should seek to ban all new uses of asbestos because the extreme harm from this chemical substance outweighs any benefit — and because there are adequate alternatives to asbestos.
Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), was among those who demanded action from federal lawmakers following the "bombshell" report.
"The sheer number of lives cut short and families destroyed from asbestos exposure demand nothing less than an outright ban," Benesh said in a statement. "I can't think of an easier vote for members of Congress to cast than for a bill that bans a substance responsible for the deaths of so many."
The reporting came as a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing Wednesday morning to consider legislation that would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) "to prohibit the manufacture, processing, and distribution in commerce of asbestos and asbestos-containing mixtures and articles."
"If Administrator Wheeler and the Trump administration won't act," said Benesh, "then Congress must by passing this critical piece of legislation that finally bans asbestos."
Sharing a link to the Times article on Twitter, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the committee's chairman, said, "This is exactly why we need to ban asbestos and why my committee is holding a hearing today on legislation that would fully ban this toxic material."
This is exactly why we need to ban asbestos and why my Committee is holding a hearing today on legislation that would fully ban this toxic material. https://t.co/QAgNBqFCut— Rep. Frank Pallone (@FrankPallone) May 8, 2019
During the committee hearing, Pallone noted that it has been 40 years since the EPA started its work to ban asbestos under the TSCA, 30 years since the agency finalized its ban, and 28 years since the ban was struck down in court — and yet, "asbestos is still being imported into the United States, it is still being used in this country, and it is still killing about 40,000 Americans every year."
"Twenty-eight years of frustration, of sickness, and loss," he said. "We have known the dangers of asbestos for decades. Enough is enough."
The hearing centered on H.R. 1603 — also known as the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2019. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), the bill's sponsor, took to Twitter Wednesday to highlight a testimony from the widow of the legislation's namesake.
After Alan Reinstein was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2003, Linda Reinstein and Doug Larkin co-founded the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO). Alan Reinstein and Larkin both died in the years that followed, but Linda Reinstein remains ADAO's president and CEO.
Chairman @FrankPallone was right when he said at the beginning of today's hearing that “enough is enough… We don’t have time for more legal maneuvering in a drawn-out court battle while tens of thousands of people are dying.” We must #BanAsbestosNow.— Suzanne Bonamici (@RepBonamici) May 8, 2019
"I'm honored to have H.R. 1603 named after my husband," Linda Reinstein told lawmakers Wednesday, "but it's really for the hundreds of thousands of Alans who have paid a price for this man-made disaster with their lives."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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