EPA officials ignored internal warnings to ban asbestos before issuing rule, memos show

EPA officials ignored internal warnings to ban asbestos before issuing rule, memos show

'Opening the door to new uses of asbestos is not an economically-wise or health-protective idea,' EPA staff wrote in an internal memo.

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Senior officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ignored advice from the agency’s scientists and lawyers in stopping short of an outright ban on asbestos when the EPA issued a new rule that restricted the use of the material in April, The New York Times reported.

The EPA’s latest rule gives the agency the authority to prohibit the use of certain products containing asbestos—such as asbestos vinyl floor tiles, insulation and other building materials—or put in place restrictions to protect public health. However, internal memos from the EPA dated August 10 show that the agency’s own experts lobbied for the outright ban of asbestos-containing products prior to the rule being issued.

“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,” the agency’s staff notes in the memo.

“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 staff continued in the memo.

According to a former EPA official, it is unusual for agency leadership to ignore the advice of scientists when making its rulings.  

“It’s really unprecedented for political leaders to fail to pay attention to any of the scientists in either regional offices or headquarters,” Betsy Southerland, former EPA director of science and technology, told The New York Times.

Exposure to asbestos has been linked with a type of lung cancer known as mesothelioma and presents increased risk to those in the construction and demolition industries.

An EPA spokesman declined The New York Times request for comment.