The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently completed a Draft Risk Evaluation for Asbestos. The draft then underwent a peer review by the Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC) and a public comment period.
The SACC and other organizations have expressed concerns about the draft. They feel the draft may underestimate the risks of asbestos. The methods used to determine risk may also be flawed, according to those questioning the assessment.
What Is the Draft Risk Evaluation for Asbestos?
The EPA released a document outlining the risk asbestos poses to people and the environment. For example, it detailed mortality from mesothelioma and lung cancer. Asbestos is a proven cause of both diseases.
The EPA released its Final Risk Evaluation for Asbestos, Part 1: Chrysotile Asbestos at the end of 2020. Read more about the organization’s determination that all six current uses of asbestos are hazardous to human health.
The document also detailed precautionary measures for asbestos safety.
As part of the EPA’s risk-assessment process, the draft was open for public comment for 60 days and underwent a peer review. Eventually, the agency will compile a final risk assessment.
The EPA created this draft risk evaluation compliant with the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This law regulates new chemicals or those currently in use in the United States. Asbestos is a substance covered under this law.
The EPA composed the draft based on the following information:
- A review of scientific literature
- Modeling and other risk-assessment activities
- Analysis of current uses of asbestos
- Data around asbestos exposure, toxicity and transport from various sources
- A determination if current conditions of asbestos use pose an “unreasonable risk” to the environment or human health
The EPA provides additional information on their research, goals and findings on their website.
What Were the Findings From the EPA’s Draft Risk Evaluation for Asbestos?
The EPA came to two preliminary determinations about asbestos risk based on “current conditions of use.” The organization based its evaluation on 33 conditions of use. Their main preliminary determinations were:
1. There is no unreasonable risk to the environment based on the conditions of use evaluated.
2. There is unreasonable risk to people. Workers, consumers, occupational non-users and bystanders could be “adversely affected” under certain conditions of asbestos use studied during the evaluation.
The draft risk evaluation and initial risk assessments are preliminary. Findings and conclusions are not final and must undergo review by independent scientific experts.
Concerns About the Draft Risk Evaluation’s Findings
The review committee (SACC) has expressed concerns about the EPA’s draft. The SACC believes the draft underestimates the risk asbestos poses to humans.
What Is the Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC)?
The SACC is an EPA peer-review committee. This committee specifically supports activities under several laws, including the TSCA. The SACC provides “scientific advice and recommendations” to the EPA.
Their advice addresses risk assessments (such as with asbestos), methodologies and pollution prevention measures/approaches for chemicals regulated by the TSCA.
SACC concerns about the EPA draft include:
- The occupational exposure findings focus on “present commercial chrysotile asbestos,” not all types of the mineral.
- The draft doesn’t consider “legacy impacts,” such as existing asbestos building materials.
- The draft doesn’t consider contaminated articles or products (such as talcum powder).
- “Take-home” exposures are not addressed.
- The draft could be underestimating the number of health risks resulting from asbestos. For example, the draft only assessed risk and related data for lung cancer and mesothelioma, rather than all asbestos diseases.
- Assumptions about personal protective equipment (PPE) use scenarios are unrealistic.
Additional concerns from the SACC review can be found in the TSCA SACC Meeting Minutes and Final Report.
Calls for Action on the EPA’s Draft
The SACC’s recommendations require revisions to the EPA’s draft risk evaluation. Some of the SACC recommendations include:
- Health risks should account for all types of asbestos, not just chrysotile.
- Mortality data should address all asbestos cancers and non-cancerous asbestos disease.
- Data should reflect incidence, not just mortality.
- Risk factors/estimates associated with PPE use scenarios should not be taken into account in the risk characterization.
- Labeling and organization of the draft should be more specific. For example, the title should be specific to chrysotile asbestos, and data regarding other types of asbestos should be clearly labeled.
- The draft should include levels of confidence for each TSCA risk determination. Some risk estimates are “based on little to no data.”
Additional recommendations from the SACC review can be found in the TSCA SACC Meeting Minutes and Final Report.
Other organizations, such as the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), have expressed similar concerns about the draft.
Critics hope the EPA will take action to correct the limitations identified in the draft. Through this risk evaluation, the EPA is in a position to advise and implement asbestos regulations that can protect individuals from diseases, such as mesothelioma cancer.
Advocates for asbestos safety assert the importance of asbestos regulations. There is still no complete ban on asbestos in the United States.
The EPA is currently reviewing the SACC’s feedback. A final risk evaluation is forthcoming.