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Shouldn’t chemical safety law overhaul prioritize an asbestos ban?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

In 1989, the federal Environmental Protection Agency tried to ban asbestos. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit threw out most of the agency’s regulations in 1991. This case, commonly called Corrosion Proof Fittings, is frequently cited as an example of just how broken the Toxic Substances Control Act, really is.

Almost 25 years later, hundreds of thousands of pounds of raw asbestos and asbestos-laden materials are still being imported into the U.S. annually. In fact, since 2006, more than 8 million pounds have arrived through our ports.

Now, the Senate is debating two competing bills for overhauling the TSCA law. The first is a chemical industry-backed bill, proposed by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), based on an earlier bill introduced by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). The second is a bill proposed by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.). They named it The Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act, for Alan Reinstein, who died of mesothelioma in May 2006, and Trevor Schaefer, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in November 2002. This bill is supported by many environmental and public health groups. 

One of the many stark differences between the two proposals is their approach to regulating asbestos. The Boxer-Markey proposal would require the EPA to reassess the risks of asbestos within two years of the bill’s enactment and take appropriate regulatory action within the following year.

The Udall-Vitter bill fails to mention asbestos.

The Boxer-Markey bill would compel the EPA to begin evaluation of 75 chemicals within the first five years of enactment and, as soon as fees were in place, would add three more chemicals to the queue every time EPA completed a chemical review. The Udall-Vitter bill set a slower pace, requiring the EPA to launch reviews of 25 chemicals in the first five years and to add one substance to the queue with every completed review. The bottom line: the Udall-Vitter bill would not guarantee a review of asbestos anytime soon.

More than 10,000 people die from asbestos-related disease each year in the U.S. Wouldn’t real reform of our nation’s chemical policy require the EPA to take a second look at this known killer?


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