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Career EPA Staff Objected to Trump Administration's Asbestos Plan

Politics
U.S. Air Force / Anthony Jennings

Attorneys and scientists with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) objected to the Trump administration's proposal of a "significant new use rule" (SNUR) for asbestos, according to internal agency emails obtained by the The New York Times.

Trump's former EPA boss Scott Pruitt quietly announced the proposal in June, framing the plan as an "important, unprecedented action on asbestos," a toxic construction material and known carcinogen that kills almost 15,000 U.S. citizens annually.


Asbestos is not banned in the U.S. but there are strict regulations on its use. But as Fast Company noted, the way the proposed rule is written could allow manufacturers to create new products containing asbestos on a case-by-case basis.

In one of the emails obtained by the Times, veteran EPA attorney Mark Seltzer raised red flags about the Trump administration's proposal.

"This new approach allows asbestos-containing products that are not currently used to be used in the future," Seltzer wrote in the May 2 email.

"Many manufacturers have stopped using asbestos in their products but would be allowed to through this SNUR if it is not one of the approximately 15 types that the SNUR requires a [notification] for," he said.

In another email from Sharon Cooperstein of the EPA's policy office, she "echoed" her colleagues' objections, adding that "the new approach raises significant concerns about the potential public health impacts of the SNUR."

EPA spokesman James Hewitt told the Times that the emails showed some staffers "did not fully understand the proposal being developed."

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) spoke against the EPA's proposed rule in a Thursday letter to acting EPA administrator Andrew R. Wheeler. The AIA said the proposal would "create a pathway to consider new uses of asbestos" and called on the EPA to entirely ban its use.

"The EPA should use their existing regulatory authority to establish a blanket ban on the use of asbestos," they wrote.

Wheeler blasted media reports that the Trump administration is trying to bring back asbestos. He tweeted that his agency "is proposing a new rule that would allow for the restriction of asbestos manufacturing and processing of new uses of asbestos."

The proposal is open for public comment until Aug. 10.

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