Last year, Congress amended the Toxic Substances Control Act to require the Environmental Protection Agency to identify the 10 most hazardous chemicals or other substances that present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment and to propose regulations to control their use. The EPA has just released its risk assessment for asbestos, a chemical that is widely recognized as a leading cause of serious and often fatal workplace illnesses. This risk assessment will have a significant impact on Connecticut and its large population of older buildings.

Prior to the discovery of its adverse health effects, asbestos was widely used as an insulating material and fire barrier. In the 1960s, scientists and doctors discovered that the inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibers caused such debilitating diseases as asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other types of lung cancer. The use of asbestos was sharply reduced after these discoveries were publicized, but workers were still exposed to asbestos in buildings built before the 1960s.

The EPA’s proposed risk assessment makes a surprising and perhaps shocking omission: in evaluating the health risk posed by asbestos, it will not focus on so-called “legacy” uses of the mineral. Instead, the EPA will look only at “current and prospective” uses of asbestos. This decision seems like a deliberate governmental choice to ignore an existing and dangerous health hazard. The release of asbestos fibers is a significant hazard whenever an older building is demolished or renovated. The EPA is deliberately turning a blind eye toward this hazard. When the EPA announced its decision, a number of experts in the filed issued comments denouncing the decision. An air quality expert based in Connecticut said that excluding “legacy” uses of asbestos imperils the viability of other laws that regulate asbestos use, including laws that require the removal of asbestos from school buildings.

The EPA’s decision does not alter the fact that asbestos still poses a grave health hazard to construction and demolition workers. Anyone who suffers from an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma may wish to consult an experienced attorney for advice on workers’ compensation benefits that may be available for such diseases.

Source: Chemical Watch, “Asbestos contractors protest exclusion of ‘legacy’ uses from TSCA assessment,” Sep. 21, 2017