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Critics outraged over EPA's proposal on asbestos

Last Updated Aug 7, 2018 6:46 PM EDT

Critics are speaking out against a proposal put forth by the Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump that could allow for new uses of asbestos, which is heavily restricted because of its links to cancer and other diseases.

In June, the EPA under Scott Pruitt's leadership proposed a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) "for certain uses of asbestos (including asbestos-containing goods)." The rule would require importers and manufacturers to get approval from the EPA before resuming or starting asbestos manufacturing, importing or processing, according to a June 1 news release from the agency.

While the EPA framed the proposal in a positive light, calling it "the first such action on asbestos ever proposed" and part of an "important, unprecedented action on asbestos," critics said it fails to recognize the dangers of the fibrous mineral, which has been associated with lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis

According to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, the EPA also announced it will not review exposures from abandoned uses of asbestos. Documents the EPA released in June indicate that the agency will "dramatically scale back its safety evaluations for 10 chemicals under the revamped Toxic Substances Control Act," says the Environmental Working Group.

In a June statement, the group accused the EPA of "doing the bidding of the chemical industry by giving it the green light to continue business as usual, and by signaling that even the most dangerous chemicals are unlikely to be restricted or banned."

The EPA, however, says press reports on the matter are incorrect, and the EPA's proposal would keep companies from manufacturing, importing or processing for new uses of asbestos without EPA approval.

"The press reports on this issue are inaccurate," EPA spokesman James Hewitt said in a statement. "Without the proposed Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) EPA would not have a regulatory basis to restrict manufacturing and processing for the new asbestos uses covered by the rule. The EPA action would prohibit companies from manufacturing, importing, or processing for these new uses of asbestos unless they receive approval from EPA."

Linda Reinstein, president and co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, said that while an estimated 15,000 Americans die each year due to asbestos-related diseases that are preventable, "raw asbestos imports and use continue."

"It is incredulous to know that the EPA has ignored the science, the history, and the carnage that asbestos has caused throughout the nation each year," Reinstein said in a June statement. "From the World Health Organization to the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, there is global consensus that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure or controlled use of asbestos."

Chelsea Clinton echoed that safety concern in a tweet Tuesday. "No amount of asbestos is safe," she said. "Yet, the Trump administration is #MAGA or making asbestos great again."

The proposed rule for asbestos use is available for public comment until August 10.