U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone yesterday vowed to press ahead with a bill that would fully ban asbestos use, a step aimed at thwarting a proposed federal Environmental Protection Agency rule that would allow manufacturers to use the substance under certain limited circumstances.
The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, joined by local labor leaders and the chief surgical officer at the Rutgers Cancer Institute, said a full prohibition on the use of asbestos is the only way to prevent exposure to the cancer-causing substance.
“Anything less than a full ban is unacceptable,’’ said Pallone (D-6th), during a press conference in Highland Park. The congressman thought the new EPA administrator had agreed to a ban when he testified before the House panel last month. However, only a week later the agency issued a rule allowing for its limited use, but only with EPA approval.
Asbestos was first banned by the agency more than 40 years ago when researchers in New Jersey first established the link between it and a deadly type of cancer called mesothelioma. “It has been known for many years that the main risk factor for developing mesothelioma, a rare and complex cancer, is exposure to asbestos,’’ said Dr. H. Richard Alexander of the Rutgers Cancer Institute.
Each year, asbestos exposure claims the lives of about 40,000 Americans, according to Pallone. In New Jersey, from 1999 to 2013, an estimated 9,395 residents died from exposure to asbestos, according to a 2015 report by the Environmental Working Group Action Fund. New Jersey is the state with the eighth highest number of people who have died from lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases, the report said.
“The most cost-effective step we can take today is to ban exposure to asbestos,’’ Alexander said.
Senior officials at the EPA disregarded the advice of their own scientists earlier this year when the agency issued the new rule that restricted but did not ban asbestos, according to a report in the New York Times last week.
While production is banned in the United States, it is still imported for use in the production of certain building products. Pallone’s bill would ban the manufacture, importation and transportation of asbestos.
New Jersey has been vocal in opposing various rollbacks initiated by the Trump administration in numerous environmental areas, including challenging efforts to weaken clean-air regulations by the New Jersey Attorney General in court and the agency’s decision to reject a proposed ban on chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to the sickening of farmworkers.