Andrew Wheeler Shirking Responsibility for Asbestos and PFAS Chemicals

Andrew Wheeler Shirking Responsibility for Asbestos and PFAS Chemicals

At his testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, EPA chief Andrew Wheeler refused to support the banning of the carcinogen asbestos. The EPA is doing a risk assessment on asbestos, and Senator John Tester asked when the substance would be banned, claiming the risk assessment is all the EPA would need in terms of evidence for the banning of the substance. Wheeler responded by stating that he cannot pre-judge the risk assessment and that if the risk assessment is strong, the EPA will move quickly, but never committed to a concrete timetable. The EPA cannot move quickly enough because asbestos kills more than 15,000 Americans every year.

Tester then asked Wheeler about PFAS chemicals, which are a family of synthetic chemicals that take a long time to break down in the environment and animals’ bodies. PFAS is short for perfluoroalky and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which include PFOS, PFOA, and Gen X. The chemicals are identified by the strong elemental bonds of fluorine and carbon. These strong bonds make it hard for them to disintegrate in the environment and people’s bodies. It has been manufactured since the 1940s and has been utilized in different industries for its ability to repel oil and water. PFAS chemicals can be found in Teflon nonstick products, stain and water repellants, paints, cleaning products, food packaging, and firefighting foams. PFAS chemical exposure can lead to liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer. It is easy to be exposed to these chemicals because they can easily migrate through the air, dust, food, soil, and water, as well as food packaging and industrial exposure.

When asking about the PFAS chemicals, Tester asked Wheeler if they could cause cancer or liver disease, just two of the many side effects caused by the chemicals. Wheeler said he would have to get back to him about what is specifically in firefighting foams. A nationwide action plan was also announced by Wheeler to help control the PFAS chemical crisis, and he was not able to answer basic questions about their safety afterwards. Wheeler then testified to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior Environmental and Related Agencies on Donald Trump’s proposed budget for 2020. In it, there is a 31 percent reduction from $8.9 billion to $6.1 billion. He defended the reduction in the budget to the lowest it’s been in 30 years.

If you’ve been exposed to asbestos and now have lung cancer or mesothelioma, contact us at 412-471-3980 or fill out the contact form at the bottom of the page to speak to an attorney and learn your options.

Alex Formuzis, “In Senate Hearing, EPA’s Wheeler Rejects Calls To Ban Asbestos, Dodges Risks From PFAS Chemicals” Environmental Working Group (April 3, 2019). [Link]
Nadia Kounang, “What are PFAS chemicals, and what are they doing to our health?” CNN (February 14, 2019). [Link]

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