Asbestos is banned in 60 countries and its use is heavily restricted in the U.S., where up to 15,000 deaths per year are asbestos-related. The global consensus —from the World Health Organization to the office of the Surgeon General—is that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure or controlled use of asbestos. The Trump administration is seeking to reinterpret the meaning of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which was restructured under a bipartisan Congressional agreement during the Obama administration, because Brazil, the principal supplier of asbestos to the U.S., recently banned it. The limited supply of asbestos the U.S. imports now comes from Ukraine. WVU experts are available to talk about the use of asbestos from the standpoints of public health, law and international politics.
“The Trump Administration’s own Centers for Disease Control report that the asbestos-related cancer death rate is climbing. That is the worry underpinning how the new TSCA rules will be used. The Administration seems to have made it clear that the new asbestos-containing products should be considered for import, especially, it appears when those products may be coming from Russia. The hope is that, like the original restructuring of the TSCA, there is some bipartisan solution that considers human health as much as economic gain, because human health is economic gain.”
“With the increased incidents of asbestos-related death and illnesses, there will be a corresponding increase in litigation. So, all the plaintiffs’ attorneys out there making a living on mesothelioma cases—and there are a lot of them—can count on decades of cases in the future. As with many of the other Trump administration regulatory rollbacks, it is a matter of flowing the administrative process and building the necessary record to support the agency’s action. Elections have consequences, and an agency can strike a balance more strongly in favor of industry than the health, safety and welfare of the public. By announcing a new, less rigorous approach for evaluating the risk of asbestos use, the EPA seems to be laying the necessary foundation. ‘Alternative facts’ may work in dealing with political issues and the media, but this action by the EPA will be vigorously challenged in the courts and an attempt to reverse long-standing scientific findings will likely not withstand the close scrutiny of a judicial appeal.”
“The recent flap about the EPA potentially allowing increased asbestos use in the U.S. marketplace is almost entirely an issue of domestic politics; however, the dominant supplier of asbestos is Ukrainian and clearly a pro-Russia/pro-Putin actor in that country, so they like President Trump. From their point of view, Trump’s arrival corresponded to a significant increase in orders from the USA. So they responded by putting President Trump’s image on their product. That makes sense from their point of view, but it’s clearly an image that adds to the larger contentious political environment in the USA.”
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