BY CHARLES MACGREGOR
Asbestos is a naturally occurring carcinogen that was used heavily in construction and other industries for over 100 years due to its insulative and flame-retardent properties.
Over the course of the 20th century it was discovered that exposure to the microscopic fibers of asbestos caused serious illness amongst workers and others exposed to it, causing over 80 percent of mesothelioma cancer cases. In the 1970s, regulations began to control and cut back the use of asbestos, but it remains legal in the United States, featured in products such as brake lining, window caulk and certain construction materials.
In 1989, the EPA attempted to effect a near-total ban on asbestos products but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated and remanded the ban. In present-day America over 2,000 persons are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year and about 15,000 Americans will die from an asbestos related illness.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently working on an evaluation and a problem formulation document to be released in December, presumably near Christmas. This decision will determine what the current status of asbestos is in the U.S. and where they might need to invest extra time investigating.
The EPA will consider comments made by the public during an open comment period, which ended in September, alongside the scoping document released in June. While this is progress, there is issue with how the EPA is currently defining the use of asbestos in the country – the scope of the evaluation is limited to the asbestos being imported and used in construction and production today. This qualifier limits it to a few hundred tons, as opposed to the millions of tons existing in older buildings, homes, and products, in the United States and exposing Americans each and every day.
Asbestos was used heavily in building materials, the automotive industry and the military from the late 1800s through the 1970s. Many homes, schools, and public buildings still contain the toxin in insulation or floor/ceiling tiles among other products. When disturbed asbestos particles are released into the air, inhaled and become embedded in the lining of the organs where mesothelioma develops.
The tons upon tons of asbestos still hidden in the country is the danger – a danger whose impact won’t be fully understood for decades to come. Mesothelioma cancer has a long latency period so symptoms of the disease do not develop until 20 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos. Prognosis once symptoms manifest is poor – most patients only have 12 to 21 months to live.
Moving forward it is likely that a comment period will be reinstated as the EPA further deliberates – it is during this time that concerned citizens need to voice their opinions and reiterate the detrimental cost of asbestos on Americans.
When the comment period reopens, make your voice heard. Help make America a healthier place.
The author Charles MacGregor is the community engagement specialist for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance