May 8, 2019

EPA ignored warnings from its own scientists about asbestos

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

The Environmental Protection Agency ignored warnings from its own scientists about allowing limited manufacturing of asbestos, the New York Times reports.

What's happening: Internal memos obtained by the NYT, dated August 2018, show that more than a dozen EPA scientists and lawyers advised the agency to totally ban asbestos instead of just restricting its use. The EPA ruled last month that manufacturers could adopt new uses for asbestos or return to older uses of the substance with the agency's approval, per the NYT.

Memo highlights:

"Given the significant number of asbestos sites that EPA has to clean up due to improper disposal or abandonment, opening the door to new uses of asbestos is not an economically-wise or health-protective idea."
"Rather than allow for (even with restrictions) any new uses for asbestos, EPA should seek to ban all new uses of asbestos because the extreme harm from this chemical substance outweighs any benefit — and because there are adequate alternatives to asbestos."

Go deeper: Review the EPA's 2018 asbestos proposal

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Inside hackers' pivot to medical espionage

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A wave of cyber-spying around COVID-19 medical research is once more demonstrating the perils of treating cybersecurity as a separate, walled-off realm.

Driving the news: U.S. officials recently announced an uptick in Chinese-government affiliated hackers targeting medical research and other facilities in the United States for data on a potential COVID-19 cure or effective treatments to combat the virus. Additionally, “more than a dozen countries have redeployed military and intelligence hackers to glean whatever they can about other nations’ virus responses,” reports the New York Times.

The downsides of remote work

Data: Reproduced from Prudential/Morning Consult "Pulse of the American Worker Survey"; Chart: Axios Visuals

The coronavirus pandemic has forced a large-scale experiment in working from home. It has gone well enough that many companies are expanding their remote work expectations for the foreseeable future, and remote employees want to continue to work that way.

Yes, but: The downsides of remote work — less casual interaction with colleagues, an over-reliance on Zoom, lack of in-person collaboration and longer hours — could over time diminish the short-term gains.

Hong Kong's economic future hangs in the balance

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As Beijing forces a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong, the once semi-autonomous city's status as one of Asia's largest financial hubs is at risk.

Why it matters: Political freedoms and strong rule of law helped make Hong Kong a thriving center for international banking and finance. But China's leaders may be betting that top firms in Hong Kong will trade some political freedoms for the economic prosperity Beijing can offer.