E.P.A. Staff Objected to Agency’s completely new Rules on Asbestos Use, Internal Emails Show

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WASHINGTON — Top officials at the Environmental Protection Agency pushed through a measure to review applications for using asbestos in consumer products, as well as also did so over the objections of E.P.A.’s in-house scientists as well as also lawyers, internal agency emails show.

The clash over the proposal exposes the tensions within the E.P.A. over the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back environmental rules as well as also rewrite different regulations of which industries have long fought.

Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral as well as also known carcinogen, was once common in insulation as well as also fireproofing materials, nevertheless today most developed countries ban of which. The United States still allows limited use in products including gaskets, roofing materials as well as also sealants.

The proposed completely new rule would certainly create a completely new process for regulating uses of asbestos, something the E.P.A. can be obliged to do under a 2016 amendment to a toxic substances law.

The E.P.A. says of which can be toughening oversight. However, the way its completely new rule can be written has spawned a spirited debate over whether of which will actually make of which easier for asbestos to come back into more widespread use. Consumer groups say the agency should be looking for ways to prohibit asbestos entirely.

“The completely new approach raises significant concerns about the potential health impacts,” wrote Sharon Cooperstein, an E.P.A. policy analyst, in one of the emails. She, along which has a veteran E.P.A. scientist as well as also a longtime agency attorney, said the proposal as designed left open the possibility of which businesses could start using asbestos in some cases without getting the government’s assessment, putting the public at risk.

The asbestos plan, which was introduced with little fanfare in June, stems via the E.P.A.’s responsibility to regulate chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act as well as also fulfill an Obama-era amendment of which requires the agency to regularly re-evaluate the harmfulness of toxic materials. Asbestos can be the most prominent of the current batch of substances the E.P.A. can be deciding how best to regulate inside future.

Andrew R. Wheeler, E.P.A.’s acting administrator, said the E.P.A.’s plan would certainly make of which more difficult to use asbestos in products. The E.P.A., he wrote on Twitter, “can be proposing a completely new rule of which would certainly allow for the restriction of asbestos manufacturing as well as also processing of completely new uses of asbestos.”

The Trump administration has made government deregulation — of environmental rules, banking guidelines as well as also myriad different regulatory areas — a centerpiece of its policy agenda, as well as also the E.P.A. has been at the forefront of the effort. In recent weeks the agency detailed one of its most significant efforts, a major weakening of federal auto-emissions regulations.

The United States tried to ban asbestos use inside 1970s, nevertheless of which effort was overturned by the federal courts in 1991. However the ruling did retain a ban on completely new uses of asbestos. Because of of which (as well as also the potential legal liability), use of asbestos declined inside United States.

Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts can be leading an effort among Democratic state attorneys to fight the asbestos plan, calling of which a threat to human health. Exposure to asbestos has been linked to lung cancer, mesothelioma as well as also different ailments.

“In recent years, tens of thousands have died via mesothelioma as well as also different diseases caused by exposure to asbestos as well as also different dangerous chemicals,” she said. “If the Trump administration’s erosion of federal chemical safety rules continues, of which will endanger our communities as well as also the health of all Americans.”

The United States no longer mines or manufactures asbestos. Until recently, Brazil had been the source of about 95 percent of all asbestos used in America, according to the E.P.A., nevertheless last year of which country banned its manufacture as well as also sale. Since then, Russia has stepped in as a supplier.

One Russian producer recently signaled enthusiasm for the American market. Last month, the Russian firm Uralasbest posted on Facebook an image of its asbestos packaging of which featured President Trump’s face along with the words: “Approved by Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States.” The company can be one of the planet’s largest producers as well as also sellers of asbestos.

Uralasbest did not respond to a request for comment.

The completely new E.P.A. proposal can be called a “significant completely new-use rule” of which sets out the guidelines for what types of asbestos uses the federal government considers risky enough to evaluate as well as also perhaps restrict or ban.

The internal E.P.A. emails indicate of which, This specific year, top E.P.A. officials sought a last-minute change inside language of the rule.

“Upper management asked us to take a different approach,” wrote Robert T. Courtnage, an associate chief in E.P.A.’s Office of Pollution Prevention as well as also Toxics, in an April 25 email sent to 13 members of an agency group working on the then-forthcoming proposal. Specifically: Rather than call for all completely new uses of asbestos to come before the E.P.A. for a risk review, the rule would certainly include just 15 specific uses of which would certainly trigger a federal assessment.

The list of 15 included many specific as well as also relatively common uses for asbestos, including as separators in fuel cells as well as also batteries as well as also as a component in vinyl-asbestos floor tile as well as also high-grade electrical paper.

Mr. Courtnage in his email did not identify who had sought the change. He as well as also different E.P.A. officials who wrote the emails did not respond to requests for comment.

Critics of the rule argue of which limiting the review to 15 uses means different potential uses would certainly avoid examination.

“This specific can be presuming there’s nothing under the sun you could ever do with asbestos different than these 15 things,” said Betsy Southerland, former director of the E.P.A.’s office of science as well as also technology, in an interview. Ms. Southerland resigned via E.P.A. last year over the Trump administration’s leadership of the agency as well as also can be working on opposing the asbestos rule as well as also others for the Environmental Protection Network, a group of agency alumni.

Narrowing the list to 15 potential uses took E.P.A. scientists as well as also lawyers by surprise, the emails indicate. Three staff members argued inside emails of which the agency could not anticipate all future uses of asbestos, as well as also therefore risked letting some uses take place without being weighed for safety risks.

Under the E.P.A.’s approach, if the agency “failed to correctly anticipate some different completely new use, then of which seems to me of which the manufacture of such a product would certainly not be subject to” the completely new-use rule, wrote Susan Fairchild, an environmental scientist who has worked at the agency since 1991.

“Asbestos can be an extremely dangerous substance with no safe exposure amount,” Mark Seltzer, an attorney who has been with E.P.A. more than a decade, noted in another email

A spokesman for the E.P.A., James Hewitt, said the emails indicated staff as well as also different members of the working group on asbestos “did not fully understand the proposal being developed.”

In a telephone interview This specific week, Nancy B. Beck, the E.P.A.’s deputy assistant administrator inside agency’s chemical safety office, said the rules would certainly to restrict as well as also perhaps even ban some uses of asbestos where no means of doing so currently exist. “Obviously someone out there thinks we are increasing exposure to asbestos when we are doing the opposite,” she said.

The E.P.A. has set a Friday deadline for the public to comment on the asbestos rule, which of which intends to finalize This specific year.

Before joining the E.P.A. Ms. Beck served as an executive at the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main trade association. (An E.P.A. spokeswoman also noted of which Ms. Beck also previously worked for the Washington State Department of Health as well as also served inside Office of Management as well as also Budget under two former presidents, George W. Bush as well as also Barack Obama.)

The American Chemistry Council has not weighed in directly on the proposed asbestos rule.

Ms. Beck said of which, since there can be no ban on asbestos, no regulatory process currently exists to stop a company of which chooses to put of which in something like flooring or roofing materials. nevertheless under the rule, some of those ways of employing asbestos — which had over the decades become less common — would certainly right now be considered a significant completely new use. of which will force companies to notify the E.P.A. as well as also face an evaluate the risks.

“If you want to put asbestos in flooring materials you have to come to us first as well as also we have to do a thorough risk evaluation as well as also approve of which,” she said. “Or we simply prohibit of which.”

Asked why the rule specified 15 uses instead of applying to all prospective uses, Ms. Beck said the agency was confident of which had included all foreseeable uses of asbestos. “We think we have identified all of the potential possible uses of which are out there as well as also could come back into manufacturing,” Ms. Beck said. “The universe can be covered.”