Cutting the EPA’s Budget Harms the Country’s Ability to Address Asbestos Risks

by March for Science

This article is by Emily Walsh, Community Outreach Director at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

Before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created, smog covered cities, factories dumped chemical waste haphazardly, and rivers caught fire. That’s when Americans spoke up and voiced their concern over environmental pollution and health hazards. In response to public outcry, elected officials from both sides of the aisle helped create the EPA to write and enforce scientifically backed regulations and standards. Though there is always more work to do, land, water, and air quality have significantly improved for all Americans in the nearly 50 years since the EPA was founded, all while the U.S. economy has grown.

Continued progress is in jeopardy due to the mammoth cuts in the Administration’s proposed 2018 budget. Under this proposal, the EPA would lose about 31% of its budget, the equivalent of $5.65 billion. A hit of this size could potentially derail important ongoing initiatives, including those aimed at cleaning up and monitoring the use of asbestos -- the mineral that is a leading cause of the deadly cancer known as mesothelioma.

Unknown to many people, asbestos is not fully banned in the U.S. Currently the mineral can be included in new products with historic asbestos use like car parts, insulation, and roofing tiles as 1% of the item’s components.

This might change soon as asbestos was selected in 2016 as one of the first 10 chemicals to be reviewed by the EPA for a risk evaluation under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, an amendment of the 1976 Toxic Substance Control Act. As a part of this process, the EPA must assess if each chemical “presents an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment” within three years.

Fortunately, the proposed 2018 budget would include additional funds to conduct this assessment. However, if asbestos is found to be a risk to public health -- a conclusion that has broad scientific consensus -- the EPA programs needed to reduce and remove the toxin would be included in these proposed budget cuts, similar to current cuts to the environmental toxins lead and radon. We’ve also seen troubling statements from the Administration on asbestos and its link to cancer. Additionally, the Regulatory Accountability Act, currently awaiting a Senate decision, would create a series of roadblocks in the name of accountability and transparency and prolong a ban even further, even if deemed unsafe by the EPA.

A world without the full strength of the EPA would not be a pretty one. There is a reason Americans were spurred into environmental activism in the 1960s and 1970s. Had asbestos been banned decades ago when it was already well known as a carcinogen, tens of thousands of lives might have been spared today. Mesothelioma survivor and advocate Heather Von St. James has witnessed the death of too many friends to this preventable disease. We must continue to fully support and fund the EPA’s vital work to serve as a protector of Americans’ health and safety.

So what can you do? Call your Congressmen. Write letters. Attend town hall meetings. Appropriators will be working on the details of the budget throughout the summer, before the end of the fiscal year in September. There is plenty of time for you to share your opinion and make your voice heard that science is here to stay!

The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance is an organization focused on providing reliable information, resources and connections to those with mesothelioma and their loved ones as well advocating for a complete ban on the toxin asbestos.