Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), one of the strongest advocates for keeping Americans safe from the hazards of asbestos, is calling for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to quickly include all forms of asbestos in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The EPA must select 10 chemicals to be evaluated and regulated for unreasonable risks according to the newly revised TSCA signed by President Obama in June.
The Toxic Substances Control Act, first passed in 1976, gives the EPA the authority “to require reporting, record-keeping and testing requirements, and restrictions relating to chemical substances and/or mixtures.” Specifically, TSCA was designed to make sure that the chemicals used every day were safe and wouldn’t lead to cancer, or birth defects, or reproductive problems.
The Act had shortcomings. Senator Boxer explains that the original version of TSCA included so many obstacles and impediments that the EPA was unable to ban major uses of asbestos in 1989. President Obama concurs, and during his remarks on June 22 when he signed the new bill, he said, “The system was so complex, it was so burdensome that our country hasn’t even been able to uphold a ban on asbestos — a known carcinogen that kills as many as 10,000 Americans every year.”
Expert Insight“The U.S. now has the ability to be a global leader and join the many other nations that have acted to address the harms posed by asbestos.”
On June 22, 2016, President Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which amends the existing TSCA. Changes to the Act, according to the EPA, include: mandatory requirement for EPA to evaluate existing chemicals with clear and enforceable deadlines; new risk-based safety standard; increased public transparency for chemical information; and consistent source of funding for EPA to carry out the responsibilities under the new law.
The timeline established with the new law requires the EPA to publish the list of the 10 chemicals by mid-December 2016.
“The first important decision EPA must make under the law is to select the initial 10 chemicals that will be evaluated and then regulated if they are shown to present unreasonable risks,” said Senator Boxer in an Aug. 26 letter to Gina McCarthy, the Administrator of the EPA. “To build confidence in the agency’s ability to deliver meaningful results for our children and families, EPA must consider all forms of asbestos in this initial list of chemicals it acts on.”
All Asbestos is Dangerous
Asbestos is a known carcinogen and is shown to cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and other respiratory illnesses. Mesothelioma is a terminal cancer for which few treatment options are available. The disease develops slowly after microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested. It can be decades before symptoms present themselves and the cancer is diagnosed. Past asbestos exposure leads to nearly 3,000 mesothelioma diagnoses in the U.S. each year.
Although there are six naturally occurring fibrous minerals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that comprise asbestos, three types have been used commercially: blue (crocidolite), brown (amosite) and white (chrysotile). More than 90 percent of the asbestos used in the United States was the white asbestos. However, studies show that all forms of asbestos can cause mesothelioma.
In 2009 an evaluation by the International Agency for Research on Cancer reported that “epidemiological evidence has increasingly shown an association of all forms of asbestos (chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite) with an increased risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma.”
“The combination of well-documented, widespread and serious health effects and ongoing use and exposure provides a strong basis for EPA to act quickly on asbestos,” Senator Boxer concluded. “EPA should seize this opportunity by including asbestos in the first 10 chemicals that it acts on under the new law.”