At a time when attention is being paid to the devastating effects pollution has worldwide — killing more people every year than all war and violence, a major study recently revealed — the U.S. may be dialing back its pollution controls.
Just the opposite should be happening.
The United States should take its role as a world leader seriously and be aggressive in tackling pollutants that make people sick. Asbestos and flame retardants are among the pollutants that do substantial harm; but instead of putting into place an earlier plan to look at chemicals in widespread use that result in the most common exposures, the new administration wants to limit the review to products still being manufactured and entering the marketplace, AP reports.
For asbestos, that means gauging the risks from just a few hundred tons of the material imported annually while excluding almost all of the estimated 8.9 million tons of asbestos-containing products that the U.S. Geological Survey said entered the marketplace between 1970 and 2016, according to AP.
That’s an alarming reduction, including to those who actually respond to alarms. Firefighters are put at risk just as much by the hazardous materials unleashed in a fire than the fire itself. A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health analysis of 30,000 firefighters deaths concluded firefighters contract mesothelioma — caused by inhaling asbestos fibers — at twice the rate of other U.S. residents.
Sickness and death attributed to responders working at 9/11 sites are evidence of pollutant risk on a massive scale. In June the World Trade Center Health Program, the federally funded organization that helps provide medical treatment for people affected by the attacks, counted more than 67,000 responders and 12,000 attack survivors as enrollees, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Construction workers who work around asbestos during demolition or remodeling as well as low-income residents who live in less-than-ideal conditions also are victims of such chemical exposure. Those in the midst of hurricane cleanup operations right now are exposed to numerous pollutants.
The administration’s reason for fighting tighter controls on the hazardous material is transparent. Fewer restrictions and less regulation are equated with being pro-business.
Dialing back efforts to make our environment safer, however, will take an economic toll in multiple ways from public health costs to loss of productivity to future cost of cleanup.
Beyond the financial cost is government accountability. Intentionally exposing the public to known carcinogens is ethically irresponsible.