“What? Asbestos isn’t banned?” is an exclamation I hear all too often from people when I tell them I am a survivor of mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure. I know, crazy isn’t it, that a known carcinogen banned from use in over 55 OTHER countries is not banned in the USA, long thought to be a world leader in such things. Sadly, the United States lags far behind on these types of regulations and if the current administration gets its way, things could get even worse.
As an 11-year survivor of mesothelioma, I’ve been involved in asbestos awareness and education for the last decade, warning people of the dangers and using my own story to get the point across. There is NO safe level of exposure to asbestos. The EPA attempted to ban asbestos back in the 70’s but it was overturned in 1981 and to this day, asbestos continues to be imported to the U.S. by the tons.
Between 1999 and 2013, an estimated 12,000 to 15000 people a YEAR have died from asbestos-related diseases. I could have been one of them.
The EPA and OSHA are the main agencies in charge of workplace safety and regulation. Proposed cuts to these agencies and an act introduced recently to scale back regulations called the Regulatory Accountability Act, jokingly referred to as the Kill Bill act, are simply dangerous and lives could very well be lost because of it. I’m furious our current administration is undermining rules put in place to protect us from deadly chemicals in our homes, air, food and water. I’m working with the Center for Environmental Health to petition Nancy Beck, a chemical industry executive in charge of reviewing the use of asbestos at the EPA.
With the appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA, the administration showed us what his thoughts are about the agency. They have proposed cuts of over 30%. In 2016, the EPA finally named asbestos as one of the top 10 chemicals to review for its potential risks to human health. The EPA’s already lax regulation on asbestos has had terrible consequences. Between 1999 and 2013, an estimated 12,000 to 15000 people a YEAR have died from asbestos-related diseases. I could have been one of them.
On a weekly basis, I meet people who are newly diagnosed. I come into their lives at a time when everything is uncertain. They are scared, nervous and don’t know what the future holds. Some of them know exactly where their asbestos exposure happened, many don’t. Asbestos was widely used throughout the U.S. for decades and exposure can happen from schools, homes, workplaces, and now with the DIY craze, the 3rd wave of exposure is happening. Homeowners who embark on home renovations themselves or hire contractors who don’t know the dangers of asbestos and tear into walls and tile risk exposing themselves, their employees and the people who hired them.
I’ve lost literally dozens of people I know to mesothelioma. What is so maddening is every single death was preventable. If asbestos would have been banned, if industry would have regulated or completely halted its use, the needless suffering of so many people wouldn’t have happened. Because of lax regulation, and the EPA having its hands tied by outside interests, my fear is that death toll will continue to rise. How many more people need to die before they pay attention? How many families will lose their loved ones and suffer because of asbestos and other toxic chemicals that won’t be regulated because of corporate greed? My hope is that common sense will win, that the EPA won’t have its hands tied and that this bad legislation will die before it goes to a vote. I hope so because lives depend on it.
Heather Von St. James is an 11-year mesothelioma cancer survivor who was exposed to asbestos as a kid through her dad’s work jacket. Now, Heather uses her story to advocate for others and fights for stronger rules to protect our children and families from asbestos and other harmful chemicals.