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EPA to Ignore 68 Million Pounds of Chemical Emissions in Limited Risk Assessment

A post office closed for asbestos removal; the EPA's new chemical risk analysis policy will not consider the risks of asbestos already in the environment. 293.xx.xxx.xx / CC BY-SA 3.0

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will limit the criteria it uses to determine the health risks of 10 dangerous chemicals including asbestos, The New York Times reported Thursday.

A 2016 amendment to the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 required the EPA to evaluate hundreds of hazardous chemicals to decide if they should face more restrictions or be banned entirely. But documents released by the EPA last week suggest the EPA is kowtowing to the chemical lobby in the narrow criteria it is using the asses the safety of the first 10 chemicals, restricting its analysis to the risks posed by direct exposure to a chemical, and not the risks associated with exposure to contaminated air, soil and water.


In the case of asbestos, which kills almost 15,000 U.S. citizens annually, the EPA will only consider risks from new uses of asbestos and not risks from asbestos already present in tiles, adhesives and pipes, Newsweek reported Thursday.

President Donald Trump has dismissed health concerns about asbestos, calling it "100 percent safe, once applied," Newsweek pointed out. In 1997's The Art of the Comeback, he blamed the asbestos scare on the mob. "I believe that the movement against asbestos was led by the mob, because it was often mob-related companies that would do the asbestos removal. Great pressure was put on politicians, and as usual, the politicians relented," he wrote, according to Newsweek.

EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox told The New York Times that the agency felt chemical contamination of the broader environment was already regulated by the Clean Air and Water Acts.

But Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, who helped pass the 2016 amendment, countered that the limited risk analysis was not in keeping with the spirit of the law.

"Congress worked hard in bipartisan fashion to reform our nation's broken chemical safety laws, but [Administrator Scott] Pruitt's E.P.A. is failing to put the new law to use as intended," Udall said in a statement.

The Environmental Defense Fund calculated that the EPA's limited analysis would ignore 68 million pounds of emissions yearly.

For example, one of the 10 chemicals is perchloroethylene, a likely carcinogen used as a dry-cleaning solvent and metal degreaser. The analysis will consider harm posed by exposure while cleaning clothes or carpets, but not harm posed by its presence in drinking water in 44 states.

The decision comes after lobbying by the chemical industry urging the EPA to narrow the scope of its risk assessments. Nancy B. Beck, who helps head the EPA's toxic chemical unit under Trump, previously worked as an executive for lobbying-group the American Chemistry Council.

The American Chemistry Council further sent a letter to the EPA in August 2016 focusing on asbestos specifically, urging the EPA to carefully consider its inclusion in the first 10 chemicals studied due to its importance in the chlor-alkali industry. Chemical lobbyists held four asbestos-related meetings with the EPA last year, Newsweek reported.

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