In our original article, we posed this question: “The Lautenberg Act is an improvement, but will it be enough to get harmful chemicals out of the ... products we use every day?”So far, the answer has been a resounding “no.” The EPA hasn’t further regulated any of the 10 chemicals on the list. One of those chemicals, methylene chloride, a common ingredient in paint strippers and other solvents, was recently banned by Home Depot and Lowe’s. Acute exposure to methylene chloride is reported to have caused the deaths of dozens of workers and consumers, and long-term exposure is a probable human carcinogen.
Many thought that if nothing else, the agency might at least move quickly to further regulate asbestos, which is known to cause cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma and other harmful respiratory conditions. However, instead of continuing to restrict existing asbestos use or banning its use altogether – the material is still allowed in cement pipe, millboard, roofing materials, vinyl floor tile
“LIUNA members and many other workers already encounter asbestos during repair, maintenance, demolition and disposal operations,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “Safely handling asbestos requires a significant level of worker training and personal protective equipment because there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Expanding the use of asbestos to new materials and processes would only guarantee that more workers eventually come in contact with this deadly substance. Doing so is simply the wrong decision for the safety and health of LIUNA members.”The EPA’s proposed significant new rule presents several specific problems for LIUNA members, other workers
From a safety and health perspective, the best way to protect construction workers and the public from asbestos-related diseases is to eliminate the source of exposure. Barring that, the hierarchy of controls calls for substitution, engineering controls
*It doesn’t address ongoing exposures from existing asbestos in today’s building and infrastructure. This means it includes no new protections for construction laborers or other workers.*It proposes notification exemptions for some new uses of asbestos. That means owners, contractors and workers could be left in the dark about whether materials on site contain asbestos. This could also be an issue for workers involved in manufacturing asbestos-containing products.
*It doesn’t require the EPA to consider the risks of future disturbance or disposal when evaluating the safety of significant new uses. Construction workers involved in hazardous remediation and disposal know that this is absolutely a part of the asbestos lifecycle.
We are still dealing with the fallout of asbestos that was manufactured and put into place decades ago. Estimates place the number of asbestos-related deaths each year in the U.S. between 12,000 and 39,000. New cases of mesothelioma, which are directly tied to asbestos exposure, measure about 3,000 per year. Instead of considering new ways that asbestos could be introduced into the working environment, the EPA should be moving to ban this toxic substance. It is irresponsible to do anything else when we know there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.