EPA Officials Warned Against Trump 'Mob Conspiracy' Asbestos Rule: Internal Emails

Environmental Protection Agency attorneys and scientists urged top officials against pushing through a rule change that allows for unregulated uses of asbestos in consumer goods, according to internal emails obtained by The New York Times.

The emails show that the Trump administration's mandate to roll back environmental and health regulations were contested within the agency and went against internal consensus and recommendations, The Times reported.

In June the EPA quietly announced that while it would evaluate and require approval for most new uses of asbestos in the United States, it would not investigate the risks associated with asbestos already in the environment.

"If you don't evaluate the dangerous legacy of asbestos you don't know how much contamination still exists in the United States," Linda Reinstein, president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, told Newsweek at the time. "We know it's in our homes, schools, workplace and environment, but the average American can't identify and evaluate the risk. We have taken risk evaluation off the table."

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Reinstein said that she had multiple meetings with Nancy Beck, deputy assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, to present over 100 studies that confirmed exposure to even low-doses of asbestos could cause terminal illness. But she said that Beck—previously senior director at the American Chemistry Council, a lobbyist group that represents Dow Chemical, DuPont, Monsanto and ExxonMobil Chemical—declined to consider them.

The changes to the rule were spurred by a 2016 congressional amendment to the Toxic Substances Control Act, which required the EPA to reconsider its process for evaluating asbestos in the U.S.

The amendment's sponsors, however, originally supported the change as a way to allow the U.S. to join most other developed countries in fully banning asbestos. "In a bipartisan compromise, Congress moved to patch up the holes in our chemical review system when it updated the Toxic Substances Control Act. But Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration are presiding over an attack on not just the spirit, but also the actual content of the reform law," said Senator Edward J. Markey, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, in a statement.

"The new approach raises significant concerns about the potential health impacts," wrote Sharon Cooperstein, an EPA policy analyst, in an email.

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Robert T. Courtnage, an associate chief with the EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, wrote that the change to the rule was ordered at the last minute. "Upper management asked us to take a different approach," he wrote in another email.

Nearly 15,000 Americans die from asbestos-related illnesses each year, but President Donald Trump has called the naturally occurring mineral "100 percent safe, once applied." The president implied in his 1997 book, The Art of the Comeback, that the movement against asbestos is a conspiracy created by the mafia. "I believe that the movement against asbestos was led by the mob, because it was often mob-related companies that would do the asbestos removal," he wrote.

A spokesman for the EPA, James Hewitt, told The New York Times that the emails indicated staff and other members of the working group on asbestos "did not fully understand the proposal being developed."

A sign warning of asbestos contamination. Brook Mitchell/Getty Images
EPA Officials Warned Against Trump 'Mob Conspiracy' Asbestos Rule: Internal Emails | U.S.