Between July and August of this year, U.S. asbestos imports surged nearly 2,000 percent, according to an analysis by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) and Environmental Working Group.
EWG said U.S. International Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce data show that 272 metric tons of asbestos were imported in August alone, a marked jump compared with the 13 metric tons imported the previous month.
The striking increase is a major indicator that industry is not concerned about President Trump and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) taking any steps to ban or even reduce the use and import of asbestos.
The EPA was given new powers to ban and restrict dangerous substances like asbestos when Congress passed legislation in 2016 overhauling the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA.
Asbestos is one of the first 10 substances the EPA is assessing for safety following the updates made to the revamped chemicals law. Although the EPA has not yet made a decision about the safety of asbestos under the new TSCA,recent actions by the Trump administration lay the groundwork for the agency to find that asbestos is safe and should remain legal.
Last week, the White House released its Fall 2018 deregulatory agenda, further indicating that Trump’s EPA, under acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, hasno plans to implement a ban of asbestos.
The chlor-alkali industry is the sole user of raw asbestos in the U.S., using it “to make semipermeable asbestos diaphragms needed in the manufacturing of chlorine and sodium chloride.”
After America’s last asbestos mine closed in 2002, according to EWG, the chlor-alkali industry was forced to import the material, most of which has come from Brazil.
In 2017, all of the asbestos imported into and used in the U.S. came from Brazil. Between January and August of this year, the industry spent nearly $1 million to import 555 metric tons of asbestos from Brazil and Russia. Last year, the U.S. imported more than 341 metric tons of asbestos, and 2018 imports are expected to double.
American Chemistry Council lobbyists are urging the Trump administration to offer an exemption from the new chemical safety law that would allow the chlor-alkali industry to continue its use and imports of asbestos into the future.
But this would continue to present health concerns:
Analysis of federal data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that asbestos-triggered diseases kill an estimated 15,000 Americans a year. A recent study led by Jukka Takala, president of the International Commission on Occupational Health, found that the death toll from asbestos exposure may be much higher, at nearly 40,000 Americans a year and more than 255,000 a year worldwide.
“It is clear that under the Trump administration, U.S. asbestos imports and use are not decreasing. The science is irrefutable, there is no safe level of asbestos exposure or controlled use. Clearly, the chlor-alkali industry is lobbying for another exemption.” said Linda Reinstein, president and co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.
“It is appalling that unlike more than 60 nations around the world, the U.S. not only fails to ban asbestos, but allows imports to increase,” Reinstein said. “Americans cannot identify or manage the risks of asbestos. The time is now for the EPA to say no to the asbestos industry and finally ban asbestos without exemptions.”