Real Chemical Reform Must Ban Asbestos Completely
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
What you can’t see can be deadly: Virtually invisible, yet absolutely lethal asbestos fibers lead to environmental and occupational diseases that claim the lives of 30 Americans every day.
The time is now for the Senate to draft and pass meaningful legislation to overhaul the outdated and ineffective Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 and protect children from asbestos and dangerous toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A, an endocrine-disrupting chemical in some plastics and food can linings, and flame retardants infused into car seats, nap pads and other kid goods.
Currently, prevention is the only cure for environmental and occupational asbestos-caused diseases. Though I am encouraged by bipartisan efforts to overhaul the outdated and ineffective federal law, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013 is critically flawed. Americans deserve a bill that protects public health and the environment and prevents disease—not legislation written for the chemical industry.
This proposal will not outlaw asbestos, which has been known for more than 100 years to cause deadly diseases. The World Health Organization, International Labor Organization, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Surgeon General all agree: Asbestos is a human carcinogen and there is no safe level of exposure. The nearly invisible asbestos fibers can be 700 times smaller than human hair. They can cause mesothelioma and lung, gastrointestinal, laryngeal and ovarian cancers, as well as non-malignant lung and respiratory diseases.
This lethal mineral has been banned in 54 countries. The U.S. and Canada are the only two industrialized nations not among them. With a blatant disregard for human rights, the asbestos industry continues to expose people to asbestos in pursuit of profits.
Asbestos remains legal and lethal in the U.S., tragically impacting families. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the U.S. consumed 31 million metric tons of asbestos from 1900 to 2011. Asbestos has not been mined in the U.S. since 2002. Since then, American industry has depended on imports mostly from Canada. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the U.S. consumed about 1060 metric tons of asbestos last year alone. Of that, 57 percent was used in the chloralkali industry, which makes chemical building blocks for a wide variety of materials. Another 41 percent went into roofing.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
The facts are clear: The tons of asbestos that have been mined in and imported to the U.S. have created a public health crisis. Asbestos remains in an estimated 35 million homes, schools and buildings, and even on consumer shelves. In 2007, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) identified five consumer products, including a child’s toy, that were contaminated with asbestos.
Workers and consumers cannot adequately manage the risks of consumer, environmental and occupational asbestos exposure. An estimated 10,000 Americans die every year from preventable asbestos-caused diseases. Without adequate regulations, Americans cannot determine or manage consumer, environmental and occupational asbestos risk.
Mes-o-the-li-o-ma: Can’t Pronounce It—Can’t Cure It.
I remember as if it were yesterday—the day in 2003 when my husband Alan was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. We had never heard of mesothelioma. We were devastated when we learned that the asbestos-caused disease has no cure. Our daughter was only 10 years old.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Alan had no idea how he was exposed to asbestos. Back in the 1960s, he had done a short stint as an engineer inside nuclear submarines when they were being built. In those days, asbestos was a common insulation material in gaskets, boiler rooms and many other places inside ships. Alan was good with his hands and loved to do home repairs. He removed contaminated floor tiles and fixed walls with compounds that probably contained asbestos. Like many other asbestos victims who suffer from these terrible diseases, he had many encounters with this substance. That’s part of the tragedy is our inability to identify toxic materials and products—we are left in the dark and cannot always avoid being exposed to them.
An avid marathon runner, Alan underwent chemotherapy and radical surgeries in hopes of buying more time with his family. He spent his last year tethered to oxygen 24 hours a day as mesothelioma ravaged his body. He died in 2006, three years after diagnosis.
Fueled by my intense grief, I turned my anger into action by co-founding the ADAO in 2004. Since then, it has become the largest independent nonprofit organization in the U.S. dedicated to preventing asbestos exposure to eliminate asbestos-caused diseases.
History is a Great Teacher to Those Who Listen—But is Congress Listening?
In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a regulation banning most products that contained asbestos. But in 1991, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans, LA, overturned the regulation.
In April 2013, the ADAO applauded the introduction of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2013, which would adequately protect American families from toxic exposures.
But the ADAO and most other environmental and public health organizations do not support the current language of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013, introduced in May, for these reasons:
- It has a grossly inadequate safety standard that would place a heavy burden on EPA to find that a chemical such as asbestos is unsafe. The burden should be shifted to chemical companies to show chemicals are safe.
- It lacks deadlines to require the EPA to act quickly to assess and restrict the use of harmful chemicals such as asbestos.
- It would retain the unworkable standard of court review found in current law, which prevented EPA from banning asbestos in 1989.
- Its far-reaching language would paralyze state efforts to enforce existing laws or pass new ones to increase protections against harmful chemicals such as asbestos.
Congress should draft and pass meaningful chemical safety reform legislation that truly strengthens protections for our families and environment by preventing the further use of asbestos.
Americans need and deserve legislation to:
- Expedite action to ban asbestos imports.
- Ban the manufacture, sale and export of asbestos and asbestos-containing products.
- Protect each state’s ability to pass laws that regulate chemicals.
One life lost to a preventable asbestos-caused disease is tragic; hundreds of thousands of lives shattered is unconscionable.
Visit EcoWatch’s HEALTH page for more related news on this topic.
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By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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Plain Naturals is making waves in the CBD space with a new product line for retail customers looking for high potency CBD products at industry-low prices.
Is More CBD Really Better?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2ODQyNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzYxMDMzN30.6B08i5QYW_Iq5bUf3qtm8oK8o6FKsRUZ74gdakgJ_TY/img.jpg?width=980" id="0ef5b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bac86abf3ce246742b18b0dc4052f4dd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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The Truth About CBD Product Potency<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2ODMyNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDc2NTg1N30.OAm3iOTO_pKZLXi7KdJ7n0DGOFMdOmIYuG4ArGooFC4/img.jpg?width=980" id="d657c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee016a81b29caa699b9185b64ce345d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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By Zheng Chen and Darren H. S. Tan
As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing. And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.