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April 4, 2017

Asbestos under Evaluation by EPA within new TSCA chemical regulations

by: Anne McGinness Kearse

The good news is in, or, as I say, “the cautiously optimistic news,” – the Environmental Protection Agency released its preliminary risk review of asbestos, on Tuesday, February 14, 2017. The preliminary review comes well within the six months given to the task team assigned to review public safety standards for 10 initial chemicals. While the final report has yet to be published, I believe this is a great signifier that the TSCA task team is prioritizing asbestos.

In my last blog, I discussed the need for a full ban of asbestos-containing products in particular. For the EPA to include asbestos on the first list of chemicals to evaluate is a major development for everyone that has been advocating for asbestos to be taken more seriously, as the known carcinogen continues to be used today despite killing as many as 10,000 Americans each year.

Advocacy groups, such as the Environmental Working Group and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), have tirelessly worked for years to reign in the use of asbestos and other toxic chemicals linked to devastating birth defects, cancer and other diseases. For the families of those lost to asbestos-related diseases, it can be unbearable knowing that this toxic material is still out there, potentially bringing harm to others. They — and America as a whole— scored a victory last month when the EPA announced that asbestos will be included among the first 10 chemicals slated for review under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The first 10 chemicals undergoing evaluation are:

  • 1,4 Dioxane
  • 1-Bromopropane
  • Asbestos
  • Carbon Tetrachloride
  • Cyclic Aliphatic Bromide Cluster (HBCD)
  • Methylene Chloride
  • N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP)
  • Pigment Violet 29
  • Tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene
  • Trichloroethylene

The announcement of the 10 chemicals was the first step of phase one on the EPA’s Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals to-do list — prioritizing high-risk chemicals for evaluation. The top 10 were selected from a list of 90 chemicals in commerce, and were prioritized based on the extent of the public’s potential exposure, the severity of potential danger and other risk factors.

The EPA also acknowledged suggestions from the public, including industry, environmental and public health groups, as well as members of Congress.

Under TSCA, the EPA chemical advisory committee has six months to release a report on each chemical outlining the hazards, exposures, conditions of use and the potentially exposed population. If the EPA does not act, TSCA allows for judicial review and citizen suits to enforce provisions and move forward. Hopefully the EPA’s recommendations on how to properly handle these potentially fatal chemicals will follow the lead of more than 50 nations around that world that have already or are taking steps to ban asbestos.

Cue from Canada

The latest nation to join that list is our neighbor to the north, as the Canadian government vowed in December 2016 to completely ban asbestos by 2018 due, in part, to pressure from unions and federal labor advocates. The ban will apply to the manufacture of any products containing asbestos and imports made with the deadly substance.

With Canada enacting the asbestos ban, the U.S. is one of the few industrialized nations that have not followed suit. The EPA risk assessments need to follow Canada’s lead, modernizing our industrialized nation and banning asbestos from the North American continent.

Next Steps

Now that preliminary risk assessments have been released they will be subjected to a public comment period. The EPA will have three years once finalized to complete the risk evaluations.

For now we can celebrate that the EPA is listening to the public, unions, advocacy groups and representatives and is finally scrutinizing chemicals that have the highest potential for causing harm when exposed to humans. But the work is not done. We must continue to keep the issue of asbestos in the forefront by sharing stories, encouraging EPA to stay on track and educating more people about the hazards.