Watchdog Group Says EPA Underestimated Asbestos Health Risk

A federal government watchdog group has released a report which states that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) botched asbestos clean-ups at many hazardous sites throughout the country.

An article in the Times of Trenton reports that the group, which is known as the Government Accountability Office (GAO), discovered that the EPA “used outdated testing standards to evaluate more than 260 sites that received tainted vermiculite from a [W.R. Grace] mine in Libby, Montana.”

“The EPA also failed to fully determine the health hazard presented by the asbestos-riddled ore,” said the GAO, which is Congress’ investigatory arm. The GAO report added that once the health risks of the Libby asbestos are determined, the EPA should re-evaluate all of the sites to determine if they continue to pose a hazard, perhaps prompting additional cleanup efforts.

“Since late 1999, EPA has completed evaluations at 266 of the 271 sites thought to have received asbestos-contaminated ore from Libby, Mont., but did so without key information on safe exposure levels to asbestos,” states the report.

The report was compiled at the request of Representative Chris Smith (R-Hamilton, NJ) after the local EPA did a questionable job of cleaning up a Libby site in the town of Hamilton, just outside New Jersey’s capital city of Trenton. Several residents had complained about the EPA’s handling of the contaminated site.

Smith said by using the criteria officials knew to be “outdated and arbitrary,” the EPA had “failed its mission of protecting public health.”

“It’s unconscionable that people vested with protecting the national health would use a totally flawed standard,” Smith said. “I think here and in many parts of the government the public would be shocked that so much of what passes for statistics is not scientifically based.”

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