Wide­spread tox­ins dropped from re­view

Fire­fight­ers say move by EPA jeop­ar­dizes health

The Arizona Republic - - News 2 -

BILLINGS, Mont. - Spurred by the chem­i­cal in­dus­try, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is re­treat­ing from a con­gres­sion­ally man­dated re­view of some of the most dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals in pub­lic use: mil­lions of tons of as­bestos, flame re­tar­dants and other tox­ins in homes, of­fices and in­dus­trial plants across the United States.

In­stead of fol­low­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s pro­posal to look at chem­i­cals al­ready in wide­spread use that re­sult in some of the most com­mon ex­po­sures, the new ad­min­is­tra­tion wants to limit the re­view to prod­ucts still be­ing man­u­fac­tured and en­ter­ing the mar­ket­place.

For as­bestos, that means gaug­ing the risks from just a few hun­dred tons of the ma­te­rial im­ported an­nu­ally — while ex­clud­ing al­most all of the es­ti­mated 8.9 mil­lion tons of as­bestos-con­tain­ing prod­ucts that the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey said en­tered the mar­ket­place be­tween 1970 and 2016.

The re­view was in­tended to be the first step to­ward en­act­ing new reg­u­la­tions to pro­tect the pub­lic. But critics — in­clud­ing health work­ers, con­sumer ad­vo­cates, mem­bers of Congress and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups — con­tend ig­nor­ing prod­ucts al­ready in use un­der­mines that goal.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s stance is the lat­est ex­am­ple of Trump sid­ing with in­dus­try. In this case, fire­fight­ers and construction work­ers say the move jeop­ar­dizes their health.

Both groups risk harm from as­bestos be­cause of its his­tor­i­cal pop­u­lar­ity in construction ma­te­ri­als rang­ing from roof­ing and floor­ing tiles to in­su­la­tion used in tens of mil­lions of homes. Most of the in­su­la­tion came from a mine in a Mon­tana town that’s been de­clared a U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency Su­per­fund site and where hun­dreds of peo­ple have died from as­bestos ex­po­sure.

“Hun­dreds of thou­sands of fire­fight­ers are go­ing to be af­fected by this. It is by far the big­gest haz­ard we have out there,” said Pa­trick Mor­ri­son, as­sis­tant gen­eral pres­i­dent for health and safety at the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Fire Fight­ers. “My God, these are not just fire­fight­ers at risk. There are peo­ple that live in these struc­tures and don’t know the danger of as­bestos.”

The EPA told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Wed­nes­day that there were mea­sures to pro­tect the pub­lic other than the law Congress passed last year, which man­dated the re­view of as­bestos and nine other chem­i­cals to find bet­ter ways to man­age their dan­gers. For ex­am­ple, work­ers han­dling as­bestos and emer­gency re­spon­ders can use res­pi­ra­tors to limit ex­po­sure, the agency said in a state­ment.

As­bestos fibers can be­come deadly when dis­turbed in a fire or dur­ing re­mod­el­ing, lodg­ing in the lungs and caus­ing prob­lems in­clud­ing mesothe­lioma, a form of can­cer. The ma­te­rial’s dan­gers have long been rec­og­nized. But a 1989 at­tempt to ban most as­bestos prod­ucts was over­turned by a fed­eral court, and it re­mains in wide­spread use.

The Na­tional In­sti­tute for Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health an­a­lyzed can­cer-re­lated deaths among 30,000 fire­fight­ers from Chicago, Philadel­phia and San Fran­cisco. The 2015 study con­cluded fire­fight­ers con­tract mesothe­lioma at twice the rate of other U.S. res­i­dents.

Fire­fight­ers also face ex­po­sure to flame re­tar­dants in­cluded in the EPA’s re­view that are used in fur­ni­ture and other prod­ucts.

“I be­lieve the chem­i­cal in­dus­try is killing fire­fight­ers,” said Tony Ste­fani, a for­mer San Fran­cisco fire­man who re­tired in 2003 af­ter 28 years when di­ag­nosed with can­cer he be­lieves re­sulted from ex­po­sure to chem­i­cals in the re­view.

Ste­fani said he was one of five in his sta­tion to con­tract can­cer in a short pe­riod. Three later died, while Ste­fani had a kid­ney re­moved and en­dured a year of treat­ment be­fore be­ing de­clared can­cer­free.

Mesothe­lioma caused or con­trib­uted to more than 45,000 deaths na­tion­wide be­tween 1999 and 2015, ac­cord­ing to a Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion study in March. The num­ber of peo­ple dy­ing an­nu­ally from the dis­ease in­creased about 5 per­cent dur­ing that time.

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