As Asbestos Decision Looms, Public Interest Groups Seek Communications Between EPA and Chemical Industry
WASHINGTON – Public interest and government watchdog groups have petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency for all its communications with the chemical industry on the fate of asbestos under the new federal chemicals law.
Late last year, major chemical corporations and the American Chemistry Council, or ACC, held at least four meetings with EPA officials about asbestos. The ACC is the industry’s main lobbying group. Asbestos is one of the first 10 chemicals the EPA will consider restricting or banning under the overhauled Toxic Substances Control Act, and its decision is expected in the coming days.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, American Oversight, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and the Environmental Working Group submitted a request for records of communication between top EPA officials and representatives of the ACC, the Chlorine Institute, and companies including Occidental Chemical, Olin and Chemours.
The FOIA request includes emails, calendar invitations, phone logs, meeting notes and agendas, and all other communications. The letter says:
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and other top EPA officials have recently been meeting with several chemical and asbestos corporations and trade groups regarding the future impact of the Toxic Substances Control Act on the use of asbestos.
We are seeking to shed light on the role that those entities are playing in shaping the agency’s policy toward this dangerous substance.
Although many Americans believe asbestos was banned decades ago, it remains legal. Asbestos continues to be imported and is used in industrial applications and some consumer products. Behind the scenes, the chemical industry has been pressing the EPA to keep the notorious killer legal. In a letter sent to the EPA in 2016, the ACC argued that asbestos is essential to the chlor-alkali industry, the chemical’s main importer.
“Administrator Pruitt has the chance to finally close one of the most tragic chapters in this decades-long public health crisis that has claimed hundreds of thousands of American lives and devastated their families,” said Linda Reinstein, co-founder and president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. “Nearly half of the companies in the chlor-alkali industry have stopped using asbestos, confirming there is no reason to allow its continued import and use. Americans deserve nothing short of an outright ban.”
"Every time we uncover new emails from the EPA, it is clear that the only voices Scott Pruitt listens to are those of chemical and energy industry companies," said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. "On an issue that should be as clear cut as banning asbestos, is deeply troubling that Scott Pruitt appears to be taking his marching orders from polluting industries once again."
“From his earliest decisions as EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt has repeatedly sided with polluters and against public health,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “It is important that Americans know just how much the chemical industry is pressuring Pruitt and the Trump administration to keep asbestos legal.”
Up to 15,000 Americans die each year from mesothelioma, asbestosis and other diseases triggered by asbestos exposure. Yet the U.S. remains one of the only powerful countries in the world that has not banned all uses of the notorious carcinogen.