On asbestos, I won’t let Libby’s legacy be ignored

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There’s no place for asbestos in our communities. That’s why we’ve been fighting to get this deadly, cancer-causing crap off our shelves, out of our attics, and away from our kids for decades.

Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t seem to get that.

Instead of banning asbestos, the EPA recently announced a new plan to evaluate the risks of asbestos on a case-by-case basis. Even worse, this evaluation process would ignore established scientific fact and the painful history of asbestos contamination here in Libby.

Asbestos use has plummeted in the U.S. over the last 30 years, thanks to the lessons learned in Libby and a growing body of scientific evidence establishing the dangers of this deadly chemical. But up until recently, if a company wanted to start selling most asbestos-based products again, it could.

That’s why I helped pass the Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act in 2016. This bipartisan bill was the first major chemical safety reform signed into law since 1973 and it finally gave the EPA the authority to implement a comprehensive ban on asbestos.

But the EPA is now refusing to implement this ban. Instead, the agency wants to start from scratch, reviewing the risks associated with long-abandoned uses of asbestos on a case-by-case basis. This is ridiculous. We already know these “risks” are all too real. But what’s worse is that these reviews won’t consider the consequences associated with past uses of asbestos, which includes almost all existing contamination in our schools, homes, and communities like Libby.

In fact, the EPA’s risk evaluation proposal explicitly states a “use not included in the scope of this evaluation is Libby Amphibole asbestos ... found in vermiculite ore mined near Libby, MT and extensively distributed throughout the United States during the 20th century.”

This is outrageous. I’ve already given the Acting Administrator of the EPA a piece of my mind. I told him that knowingly allowing asbestos into American homes and businesses is irresponsible and will hurt kids and families, and I asked him to extend the public comment period so more Montanans can weigh in.

The ongoing suffering in Libby and Troy cannot and will not be ignored. What has happened is a national tragedy. But thanks to the CARD clinic, long-term cleanup efforts, and community involvement in combating asbestos-related diseases, we have learned a great deal about the risks associated with asbestos. Not using this wealth of information to inform our chemical safety regulations going forward would be an affront to good policymaking, to science, and to families across Lincoln County.

That’s why I’ll never stop holding the EPA accountable — to ensure the lessons we’ve learned from Libby aren’t overlooked and the town’s many victims haven’t suffered in vain. We must learn from our history. If we don’t, we run the very real risk of making these life-threatening mistakes all over again.

Jon Tester is Montana’s senior U.S. Senator.

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