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So you stuck your boot in one of those animal traps? I know you claim it hurts, but certain federal appointees say otherwise. That pain specialist from the trapper organization they put on the stand called you out, sir… big time.

It’s sort of like those folks in Libby—you know, the ones who aren’t really dead of Mesothelioma and respiratory disease. To think, people put up those headstones trying to fool us all. The Indy even ran a story on how regular exposure to asbestos-rich vermiculite from W.R. Grace’s old mine could be putting Libby laborers and craftsman in an early grave (see “Risky business,” July 17, 2008).

Now we learn from the Bush-era Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that asbestos risk assessment practices need tinkering, and its current proposal to do so has some scientists calling the measure regressive. Following procedure, the EPA consulted a panel of 20 toxicologists and epidemiologists appointed by the Science Advisory Board on the proposed changes.

Oh, wait, it didn’t. But the researchers from the panel found out anyway after the feds sent a copy of the proposal straight to the White House Office of Management and Budget. See, the system works.

Leading occupational health specialist Michael Silverstein criticizes the EPA for moving too fast, using old and sketchy data that marginalizes the cancer risk of asbestos in its haste to update danger assessment models. “This method is so unreliable that you wouldn’t want to apply it to any place, including Libby,” the scientist says.

Those supporting the plan are a diverse group of manufacturing industry leaders and the attorneys defending those leaders in court against asbestos-related claims. Only one pro-plan scientist went on the stand during a Washington hearing July 21-22—W.R. Grace epidemiologist Suresh Moolgavkar, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports.

Dale Kemery, EPA spokesman on asbestos policy, argues the proposal does not constitute a “watering down” of current standards, as some charge. Kemery contends the new practices will strengthen risk assessment practices by differentiating, for the first time, between individual types of asbestos fibers.

The Science Advisory Board plans to put out its opinion before the end of the month, but the agency has the power—and some say, the will—to push the changes through anyway. Insiders smell division within the EPA between officials hoping to end the bungling in places like Libby and others not wanting to draw up government-issued maps for asbestos-related litigation.

Casual observers might scratch their head at some of these developments, wondering why anyone would care so much. Unless you live or work in one of the buildings insulated with Libby vermiculite, you shouldn’t. In America, there are only about 30 million.

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