While former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s short tenure was plagued with corruption scandals, one little-noticed policy he implemented allowed for asbestos to be used once again in construction.
On June 1 — roughly a month before he resigned as head of the EPA — Pruitt issued a “Significant New Use Rule” (SNUR) that allowed for construction projects to use asbestos on a case-by-case basis. According to Fast Company, asbestos is banned in 55 countries for its carcinogenic properties. Breathing in the material itself has been known to lead to mesothelioma — a particularly deadly type of cancer that occurs in the lungs, stomach, heart, and other organs.
The EPA’s decision to allow the SNUR for asbestos in new construction stems from its re-evaluation of 10 chemicals named in a 2016 amendment to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which requires regular review of certain toxic chemicals known to cause health problems to determine whether or not their use should be curbed or discontinued entirely. After the EPA’s action, use of chemicals like asbestos will be greenlighted for use without companies having to study how people may be negatively impacted.
As Fast Company reported, the new SNUR will mean that asbestos may now end up in many common household building materials like insulation:
While products derived from asbestos may not hold a direct threat to consumers, the environmental advocacy group Healthy Building Network tells Fast Company the health risks are significant for workers who mine the toxic material, as well as those who handle it in industrial facilities that import it.Surrounding neighborhoods where asbestos fibers may be released into the air, as well as those in proximity to the landfills where they may ultimately end up, are also affected. People in the building community, who are exposed to the fibrous material while renovating and constructing our homes, schools, and offices, also remain at risk.
The Architects Newspaper recently reported on data showing that deaths from asbestos exposure number about 40,000 people every year due to diseases like lung cancer and mesothelioma — and that’s before Pruitt’s new rule went into effect, meaning the number will likely increase over the years.
While the toxic material was never outright banned in the U.S., most construction companies stopped using it in the 1970s after dozens of countries outlawed its use. It will likely now be up to local and state governments to set their own rules on the use of asbestos in the future.
Jake Shepherd is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Ohio. He enjoys poring through financial disclosure statements, spirited debate, and good scotch. He remains eternally optimistic about the Browns. Email him at jake.d.shepherd.21 (at) hotmail (dot) com.