SOUTHLAKE, Texas —The Environmental Protection Agency is taking some flak for a new proposal regarding how it would handle new uses of asbestos in the U.S. Among those frustrated is a widow from Southlake who lost her husband to mesothelioma.
Barbara Walker, a 70-year-old mesothelioma widow, said she’s astounded that the government is even allowing new uses for asbestos to be reviewed. Walker lost her 76-year-old husband, Richard Walker, in 2014. He died 8 months after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
She says her husband, an airline pilot, was primarily exposed to asbestos while in the military and while growing up. “He helped his father roof a home with asbestos shingles,” Walker said. “He also helped rebuild a runway with concrete containing asbestos.”
As a marine, Walker said her husband was also on a WWII era ship that contained asbestos as well. “All the pipes in the sleeping quarters were wrapped with asbestos,” she said. “We didn’t know where he could have gotten it. But then they started asking us ‘did you ever do this, this, and this?’ And we said yes over and over again.”
Asbestos products have been limited throughout America, but the natural mineral was once widely used in many industries decades ago.
It could be found in fabrics, cars, concrete, roofing materials, and even insulation. Many companies have phased out its use, however, after it was discovered that inhaling its near-invisible fibers lead to mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Many workers who encountered asbestos and contracted cancer have since won large civil settlements in court. Up to 15,000 people die every year due to asbestos exposure, according to the Environmental Working Group.
Environmentalists and mesothelioma advocates have long said that the U.S. is dragging its feet when it comes to asbestos regulations. Many, point to the fact that over 50 nations have already banned it outright.
In 2016, President Obama authorized legislation directing the EPA to regulate tens of thousands of dangerous chemicals, including asbestos.
That legislation also requires the EPA to re-evaluate toxic materials, like asbestos. In June, a proposal was announced by the EPA saying it would allow new uses of asbestos in products pending approval by the agency.
Companies would be required to notify the EPA at least 90 days before manufacturing or processing a product containing asbestos. After notification, the EPA would then do a risk review to assess the safety of the product and if it would be harmful to the public.
EPA officials say that the proposal would give them teeth to evaluate the intended use of asbestos and act to prohibit or limit its use. But critics of the proposal are growing in the political arena and amongst mesothelioma advocates.
Jeffrey Simon, an attorney for Simon Greenstone Panatier, PC, has represented mesothelioma victims in court for the last 25 years. He’s read over the proposal and feels like the only move the EPA should be considering is a ban. “Asbestos destroys lives,” he said. “The idea that we would make it easier for us to use asbestos in products—which this proposed rule would appear to do is logically insane.”
Walker said she understands that asbestos is a material that helps a corporate bottom line. But she adds that people should come first. “It’s cheap, but people are more valuable than the almighty dollar to some business company that wants to make money,” Walker said. "I saw my husband disintegrating in front of my eyes. I loved him, and I didn't like seeing that."
The EPA has been taking public feedback the last two months regarding the proposal.
The last day to submit a comment was Friday.