WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Sen. Patty Murray has asked the EPA to reject a shadowy effort to prevent the agency from warning brake mechanics about the dangers of cancer-causing asbestos in the brakes they handle every day.
In a letter to Acting Administrator Marianne Horinko, Sen. Murray asks EPA to reject an appeal from a secretive law firm to withdraw the agency's "Guidance for Preventing Asbestos Disease Among Auto Mechanics."
Asbestos continues to be used in brake materials, exposing auto mechanics to the carcinogenic substance when they undertake routine brake jobs.
An investigation of brake shops in six states and the District of Columbia found that two-thirds of the 31 brake shops tested showed "dangerously high levels of asbestos."
Yet the international law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius has petitioned the EPA to stop distributing warning booklets, posters and videotapes that give mechanics information on how and why they should protect themselves. The law firm will not disclose the name of the client it represents in petitioning the EPA, but it has previously represented at least one major asbestos firm and two insurance companies involved in asbestos litigation.
The stealth effort undertaken by Morgan, Lewis was detailed in an October 26th report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
A complete copy of Murray's letter to the EPA follows.
November 4, 2003
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
401 M Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
John L. Henshaw
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
200 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20210
Dear Acting Administrator Horinko and Assistant Secretary Henshaw:
I write you regarding your responsibility to protect the public from risks of injury from asbestos. EPA recently received a request made under the Data Quality Act to withdraw EPA's "Guidance for Preventing Asbestos Disease Among Auto Mechanics." Withdrawal of this Guidance is not warranted under the Data Quality Act.
In fact, such a withdrawal would mislead the public by conveying the false impression that asbestos exposures from brake repair work is no longer a risk. This conclusion flies in the face of current congressional intent regarding the use of asbestos in the marketplace.
An investigation of brake shops in six states and the District of Columbia by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer yielded some very troubling results. "Dangerously high levels of asbestos" were found in two thirds of the 31 brake shops tested. Asbestos concentrations of 2.26 percent to 63.8 percent were found in 21 brake-repair shops.
As you know, EPA workers are required to wear respirators and protective gear whenever material with more than 1 percent asbestos is present.
Even more alarming is the fact that the U.S. continues to import asbestos brake materials. According to recent press reports, imports of asbestos brake materials are on the rise. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, citing data from Customs and the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. imported nearly $125 million in asbestos friction material for brakes in 2002.
With brake mechanics being exposed to asbestos dust and the U.S. increasing its imports of asbestos brake materials, the federal government should be doing more to warn mechanics about the hazards of asbestos, not less.
I commended former Administrator Whitman for finally embarking on a public education campaign to warn homeowners about the threats of asbestos-tainted attic insulation. On May 21, Stephen Johnson, Director of EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, said "The government believes that people should be aware that some vermiculite attic insulation can contain microscopic asbestos fibers, and there are practical steps that homeowners can take to minimize exposure."
If EPA will take responsible measures to warn homeowners about hazardous materials, EPA must also warn brake mechanics and others who could be exposed to such a deadly substance.
In addition, recent data continues to support the conclusions in the Guidance. One important source of data is the Australian Mesothelioma Register. It is a model that I have incorporated into legislation I have authored, the "Ban Asbestos in America Act," (S.1115). This legislation, among other things, would establish an appropriate Mesothelioma Registry in the U.S.
In light of the issues raised above, please answer the following questions:
1) Will EPA reject the Morgan Lewis request to withdraw the Guidance? If not, what affirmative evidence demonstrates that asbestos no longer contaminates brakes in new vehicles, brake replacements or auto or brake repair facilities, or that auto mechanics are not at risk of exposure to asbestos from brake work?
2) What is EPA and OSHA's current information on the risks from asbestos exposure faced by auto mechanics working on brake maintenance? If current information is available, is it based on data from small, privately-owned facilities? If current information is not available, why have the agencies failed to collect such information?
3) What is known about the extent to which imported brake parts containing asbestos comply with the requirements for warning labeling? This is a particular concern because imported brake parts appear to have increased in volume by one-third over the past 2 years.
4) What activities are EPA and OSHA currently undertaking to monitor the risks of asbestos exposures to auto mechanics, to provide adequate asbestos-related safety information to auto mechanics and the public, and to enforce asbestos labeling requirements and safety standards?
5) hy is EPA considering the request from Morgan Lewis, since according to the Data Quality Act, only an affected party may make such a request. Please cite the specific provisions in law where a law firm can be deemed an affected party under the DQA.
I request a reply to this letter by November 18, 2003. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
United States Senator