ACOEM Comments on EPA Draft Scope of Risk Evaluation for Asbestos

February 18, 2022
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20460
Re: Docket EPA-HQ-OPPT-2021-0254
To Whom It May Concern:
The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) appreciates this opportunity to comment on EPA’s recently published “Draft Scope of the Risk Evaluation for Asbestos Part 2: Supplemental Evaluation Including Legacy Uses and Associated Disposals of Asbestos” (“Draft”). We are especially pleased that the Draft now includes legacy uses and disposal activities. As we commented previously, disposal and clean-up activities involve significant numbers of workers and others potentially exposed to significant levels of legacy asbestos, both directly and as bystanders. Those individuals deserve the full measures of protection that we hope will be provided in the final TSCA revision.
We agree with the expansion of the definition of asbestos to include asbestiform fibers other than chrysotile (i.e., amphibole fibers). Although chrysotile was the dominant form of asbestos used commercially in this country, there is substantial evidence that amphiboles were also used in commerce. In addition, chrysotile asbestos has often been found to contain various amounts of amphibole asbestos. Moreover, most forms of asbestos fibers occur naturally throughout the U.S. Thus, excluding the amphiboles is arbitrary and would reduce the worker protections that EPA seeks to achieve, especially for workers and others exposed in the context of clean-up and disposal activities. 
We also appreciate the importance of addressing the asbestos contamination of vermiculite from Libby, Montana. Beyond the issues of environmental exposures in Montana, we anticipate that contaminated vermiculite will present disposal and legacy hazards that will require attention to protect workers and bystanders into the future.
On the other hand, we have concerns about the inclusion of talc per se, an inclusion that risks “muddying the waters.” We recognize that amphibole asbestos can be co-located geologically with talc, and that talc from some mines can be importantly contaminated by amphiboles; sufficient exposure to such talc would almost certainly pose risks similar to those of other asbestos exposures. But it is the asbestos, not the talc, that is the causal agent. The importance of this distinction is made clear by current legal disputes concerning cosmetic talc.  We hope that EPA will not enter those disputes. As part of the proposed rule, we encourage EPA to focus on the contaminating asbestos in talc, and not the talc itself.
We look forward to seeing the conclusions of your asbestos-focused risk evaluation.

Robert M. Bourgeois, MD, MPH, FACOEM
ACOEM President