Congressional move for asbestos ban gathers steam

December 6th, 2006

The Environmental Protection Agency is facing investigations by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and incoming Democratic Congressmembers of its handling of two new safety guidebooks for auto workers. The guidebooks—Current Best Practices for Preventing Exposure Among Brake and Clutch Repair Workers and Asbestos-Automotive Brake and Clutch Repair Work—advise auto mechanics on how to prevent asbestos exposure.

Critics say that the asbestos and auto industries petitioned the EPA under the 2003 Data Quality Act to have the old asbestos guidelines for autoworkers withdrawn and not replaced. The new guidelines were only approved when Sen. Patty Murray halted the nomination of Stephen McMillin for deputy director of the House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The OMB was also involved in setting the new asbestos guidelines.

The GAO investigation will examine the reason for the delay in releasing the two guidebooks and the role that the EPA and the OMB may have played in it. Congressmembers had requested the investigation in May, but it has been delayed because of a lack of cooperation by the EPA.

The agency will also likely be facing pressure from incoming Democrats to place further restrictions on the use of asbestos or to ban the mineral outright. Asbestos exposure has been linked to mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the lungs, heart or abdomen that is nearly always fatal.

Documents obtained during the development of the new asbestos guidelines found that the auto industry was still using asbestos in its brake pads, although this could lead to a mesothelioma diagnosis for auto workers. The auto industry’s continued use of asbestos was news to many, as it was widely believed that the automakers had stopped using asbestos in new car parts. This, combined with news that a scientist was threatened with suspension for not adding data from an asbestos industry study into the new safety guidelines, may bolster Democratic efforts to restrict or ban asbestos use.

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