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EPA May Not Issue Asbestos Warning For 3 years

Health experts and safety advocates called on federal officials to warn the public about insulation laced with asbestos β€” even though it could be years before they are required to do so.

Health experts and safety advocates called on federal officials to warn the public about insulation laced with asbestos β€” even though it could be years before they are required to do so.

The Billings Gazette reports that tens of millions of buildings in the U.S. likely utilize Zonolite insulation made from vermiculite, a mica-like mineral β€” mined for decades in Libby, Mont. β€” that contains asbestos.

The mine closed in 1990, but residents of Libby continued to be diagnosed with diseases related to asbestos exposure for decades afterward. Critics warned that home and business owners β€” as well as construction and repair workers β€” unknowingly remain vulnerable to Zonolite despite the widely acknowledged dangers of asbestos.

Proponents of reforming U.S. chemical laws long pointed to the inability to ban asbestos as the prime example of those laws' failures. A long-sought overhaul was passed last summer, and the Environmental Protection Agency listed asbestos among the first 10 high-risk substances that it would evaluate under the new law.

That evaluation period, however, could take three years; should the agency determine that asbestos presents an "unreasonable risk to humans and the environment," it could ban them outright or wait another two years to reduce those risks via the rule-making process.

The latest evaluation process, meanwhile, comes nearly 14 years after the EPA originally considered a public warning regarding Zonolite insulation. The agency came under heavy political pressure over fears about cleanup costs, and a proposed 2003 warning was scrapped on the same day that then-EPA head Christine Todd Whitman resigned.

The Gazette also pointed out President Donald Trump's decades-long support of asbestos, from alleging that organized crime was behind asbestos limits to calling it a "miracle fiber" in congressional testimony.

Celeste Monforton, a public health researcher at George Washington University, told the paper that the evidence of asbestos risks was "overwhelming" and that "there's no compelling need for more study."

β€œThe new law says EPA has up to three years to study its top ten picks, but it surely doesn't mean they need to take three years,” Monforton said.

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