WASHINGTON – In testimony today before a Senate appropriations committee, Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler refused to support banning asbestos, one of the deadliest known carcinogens, and dodged questions about the health risks of PFAS chemicals, which have contaminated drinking water nationwide.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mt.), noting that the EPA is currently conducting a risk assessment of asbestos, asked Wheeler how long after the review is complete will the agency ban the substance. Tester said the agency’s risk assessment should be all the evidence Wheeler and the Trump administration will need to pull asbestos off the market.
“That risk evaluation, by the way, I think is going to be absolutely a rock-solid no-brainer, because the evidence is there,” said Tester. “How long will it take you to pull it off?”
“I can’t pre-judge a risk assessment before it’s finished,” Wheeler replied. He said that if the assessment was “rock-solid,” the EPA would “move quickly,” but would not commit to a timetable.”
Asbestos-triggered diseases kill an estimated 15,000 Americans a year. A recent study led by the president of the International Commission on Occupational Health found the death toll from asbestos exposure may be much higher – nearly 40,000 Americans a year and more than 255,000 a year worldwide.
“Banning asbestos should be one of the easiest decisions any EPA administrator could make,” said Scott Faber, EWG senior vice president for government affairs. “If almost anyone else other than Andrew Wheeler and Donald Trump were in charge of the agency, it would be.”
Last year, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and EWG discovered that Russia’s largest asbestos producer, with close ties to Vladimir Putin, was wrapping its products in packaging adorned with President Trump’s image. The company posted on Facebook a photo of pallets of asbestos with a caption praising both Trump and then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for refusing to take action to ban asbestos in the U.S.
Tester moved on to ask Wheeler about the crisis of water contamination by the PFAS chemicals used most heavily in firefighting foams. He asked if the administrator had concerns that those substances could cause cancer or liver disease – two of the many adverse health effects studies have linked to the chemicals.
“I’d have to get back to you on the exact ones that are in the firefighting foam,” responded Wheeler.
“Andrew Wheeler recently announced a nationwide ‘action plan’ to get control of the growing PFAS contamination crisis, but he can’t answer basic questions about whether they could cause harm to human health,” said Faber. “That’s like a dentist who can’t tell you the source of your tooth decay.”
Wheeler testified today before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies on President Trump’s 2020 proposed budget. It calls for a 31 percent reduction in the EPA’s funding. That would cut the agency’s budget from $8.9 billion to $6.1 billion.
On Tuesday, Wheeler testified before a House appropriations panel, where he defended Trump’s plan to slash his own agency’s funds to the lowest level in nearly 30 years.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.