Asbestos Reporting in US Products Will Resume After Recent EPA Settlement
A settlement between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a joint coalition of ten states (lead by California), the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, and several other public health and research organizations will require the organization to resume asbestos reporting.
Previously, loopholes in the EPA’s years of regulations allowed contaminated products to reach the market. For example, asbestos-containing talc and adhesives were found in children’s toys, perfumes, and more. Moreover, even as the agency banned some uses of friable asbestos (like asbestos textured paint), other uses continued. Additionally, legacy uses (also known as preexisting uses) of the cancer-causing substance were not regulated.
With the settlement, the EPA seeks to end a lawsuit questioning the federal agency’s ability to track and analyze public health risks. Now, the EPA will collect data from the companies that handle asbestos. The asbestos information will include:
- Amount made, mined, and manufactured
- Imported amounts and in what form (i.e., raw or processed)
- Which products contain asbestos
President and co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), Linda Reinstein, praised the EPA for the move.
“This is a huge win for public health. The lack of reporting on asbestos has been a gaping hole in EPA’s efforts to protect Americans from exposure to this lethal carcinogen. We’ve always said that we can’t protect Americans from asbestos if we don’t know where it is.”
Difficult Regulation History
In the 1970s, the public became aware of the growing problem of work-related cancers from asbestos exposure. Consequently, regulatory agencies started limiting how asbestos could be mixed into products. Likewise, many manufacturers phased out most uses of the toxic mineral.
However, asbestos has never been fully banned in the U.S. Several attempts to outlaw its use failed and ended in regulations that partially banned specific applications and new uses. Initially, a 1989 ban was overturned in 1991. Then, in 2017 for instance, the EPA freed companies from reporting asbestos in their products because it was a “naturally occurring chemical substance.”
Yet, asbestos is a known carcinogen. Even when found naturally in the environment, such as in the mines of Montana, exposure to the substance is potentially dangerous. As such, public health organizations like the American Public Health Association (APHA), Center for Environmental Health (CEH), Environmental Health Strategies Center (EHSC), Environmental Working Group (EWG), and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF) joined the ADAO as co-plaintiffs.
Currently, the EPA’s risk evaluation for chrysotile asbestos found a threat to workers and some non-occupational users (such as people with asbestos-contaminated products in their homes). For decades, people working in a range of trades inhaled asbestos dust without knowing it.
Dangers from a Lack of Asbestos Reporting
Regrettably, the lack of asbestos reporting for years put countless Americans at risk of exposure. Starting in the early 1900s, some states mined the mineral while others imported or manufactured it. Its dust (sometimes too small to see) stayed in the air for several days, landed on workers’ skin and clothes, and was occasionally transferred to family members.
Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of certain types of cancer and respiratory disease. Breathing in the mineral fiber doesn’t cause any immediate symptoms but can lead to rapidly growing tumors up to 40 years later. Signs of asbestos-related cancer include trouble breathing, swelling, unexplained weight loss, fever, and more.