News Releases

Murray, Waxman and Others Seek Answers About Why EPA Cancelled Public Asbestos Warning

Feb 10 2003

In letters to EPA and OMB Congressional coalition asks for extensive documentation

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) was joined by ten House and Senate colleagues today in requesting detailed information about EPA's decision to shelve a public warning to consumers and workers about the dangers of asbestos-tainted Zonolite insulation.

EPA itself has estimated that 15-35 million homes, schools, and businesses may contain the potentially deadly material. The asbestos-tainted ore used in Zonolite insulation was mined in Libby, Montana and shipped to 300 sites nationwide. EPA is currently removing Zonolite insulation from homes in Libby, because of the danger it poses to residents.

In separate letters to EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and controversial OMB Regulatory Affairs director, Dr. John Graham, the Congressional coalition asks for a detailed explanation as to the nature and substance of OMB's involvement in killing the warning.

"While we applaud EPA for the work it has done so far to clean up asbestos in Libby, Montana, we remain concerned that the federal government is not doing enough to warn homeowners and workers nationwide about risks from products made with the vermiculite once mined there. In particular, we want to understand OMB's role in EPA's decision to pull back from issuing a public warning to consumers and workers about the risks of Zonolite insulation," the letter states. "Given the tragic experience for people in Montana due to contact with asbestos-contaminated vermiculite, we support strong actions to protect people in Libby, and nationwide, from exposure to this harmful substance."

Murray and her colleagues request documentation of written communications between EPA and OMB and communication between OMB and W.R. Grace, the company that owned the Libby mine. The letter also requests specific answers as to OMB's involvement in EPA's decision to abruptly reverse course on notifying the American people about the dangers of Zonolite insulation.

Murray wrote to Whitman and to OMB Director Mitch Daniels on January 3rd after reading an investigative report that found the EPA was on the verge of warning the American public that an estimated 15-35 million homes, businesses and schools contain the insulation. The five-page response from Whitman denied OMB directed EPA to spike the public notification, despite investigative reports to the contrary. No response was received from OMB.

The Congressional coalition represents a geographically diverse group of members, which underscores the national scope of the problem.

The signatories include: Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.), Sen. Mark Dayton (Minn.), Rep. Henry Waxman (Ca.), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Rep. Betty McCollum (Minn.), Rep. Jerold Nadler (N.Y.), Rep. Sherrod Brown (Ohio).