EPA Scientists’ Advice Disregarded

On May 8, 2019, the New York Times reported that officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) disregarded the advice of agency scientists when developing the “Restrictions on Discontinued Uses of Asbestos; Significant New Use Rule” (Rule). The Rule establishes a framework through which EPA may allow new uses of asbestos. In a memo sent to Robert Courtnage, an associate chief in EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, agency scientists opposed the rule, stating:

“Given the significant number of asbestos sites that EPA has to clean up due to improper disposal or abandonment, opening the door to new uses of asbestos is not an economically-wise or health-protective idea.

Many developed countries have banned import or use of asbestos, including the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, and many others. Brazil, who as recently as 2017 supplied most of the chrysotile for use in the US chlor-alkali industry also voted for a ban in November of 2017.

Rather than allow for (even with restrictions) any new uses for asbestos, EPA should seek to ban all new uses of asbestos because the extreme harm from this chemical substance outweighs any benefit — and because there are adequate alternatives to asbestos.”

The scientists’ arguments were reportedly ignored by EPA officials when developing the rule. While EPA declined to comment, former staff claimed that it is “unprecedented for political leaders to fail to pay attention to . . . scientists” when developing these sorts of rules.