We know asbestos kills people, but we’ve never known precisely how many. What we do know is that U.S asbestos deaths are severely underreported.
For years, governmental agencies have published asbestos-related mortality rates in the 12,000 to 15,000 range. But the International Commission of Occupational Health (ICOH) more than doubled that figure last month, saying asbestos-related diseases actually kill 39,275 Americans every year.
While this latest report highlights the urgency of the asbestos epidemic, we’ve learned nothing new. Advancements in research only reaffirm what we already know: there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, and people diagnosed with mesothelioma have no chance of survival.
The EPA has sat with this information for decades. The chemical industry spent most of the last century hiding asbestos risks from the public. In that time, countless people have died tragic, entirely preventable deaths – and as ADAO founder Linda Reinstein calls out in a recent petition, the EPA’s 5-year review process will expose tens of thousands more.
The thing is, the review doesn’t need to take 5 years. Here’s what the EPA can do and why Reinstein, according to an article she wrote for the petition, believes we deserve change now.
What We Know: Asbestos Exposure Around the World
Asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral known for its resistance to heat, fire, and corrosion, has worked its way into hundreds of types of products over the last century. Construction workers used asbestos throughout homes, workplaces, and schools to build products such as pipe insulation and floor tiles. The Navy used it to reinforce ships. It’s even been found in talc, children’s makeup, and other cosmetics.
It wasn’t until 1977 that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified asbestos “carcinogenic to humans.” The message was clear: when inhaled, even 1 fiber of asbestos can trigger deadly diseases like mesothelioma.
More than 100 studies on asbestos have confirmed the same, according to Reinstein, and 55 nations have banned all uses of the mineral. But a U.S. asbestos ban looks unlikely under the pro-industry officials of the Trump administration. In fact, Administrator Pruitt, a known skeptic of asbestos risks, has tilted Toxic Substances Control Act rules in the industry’s favor.
For example, the EPA has exempted “legacy” (existing) uses of asbestos, the most prevalent sources of exposure. And in its risk evaluation for asbestos, the agency doesn’t even mention vermiculite (a form of insulation contaminated with asbestos) because it contains only a small percentage of the mineral. But that does not make vermiculite safe. There is no safe level of exposure. Vermiculite resides in an estimated 30 million homes, and that’s only one asbestos risk of many.
It’s Time to Hold Big Chem Accountable
Many Americans mistakenly believe that, because the U.S. no longer mines asbestos, the substance is already banned. In reality, it’s still imported in hundreds of metric tons annually, all thanks to industry lobbyists and their ties to crooked EPA officials.
The EPA did take steps to regulate asbestos in the late 1970s in response to IARC’s findings. But when the EPA announced its plans to ban 90 percent of asbestos products, the industry managed to throw out the ban in court. As a result, asbestos is banned in fewer than a dozen products. Chemical companies continue to push sales of other asbestos products, abusing and killing the public with efforts to keep the dangerous substance legal.
“The fact that asbestos is still legal in our country is a crime,” said Reinstein.
But despite popular belief, the EPA can overpower the industry. The agency has all the evidence it needs, and full power under the revised TSCA, to ban asbestos now. To make this a reality, we must help EWG, ADAO, and other public health advocates spread the message.
ADAO urges you to sign and share its petition, along with 12,000 other supporters fighting to close the TSCA loopholes companies need to profit from our pain.