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November 16, 2016

Out with the Old and in with the New: Hazardous Chemicals Reform

by: Anne McGinness Kearse

For the first time in two decades, the EPA successfully updated the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) since it was originally passed in 1976. On June 22, 2016 President Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, allowing for a long overdue revision of the Nations primary chemicals management law.

The update expanded the definition of what constitutes “compliance monitoring activities.”  Or in other words, the reformation of TSCA will allow the EPA to take the necessary steps to protect Americans from toxic chemicals, allowing the agency to prevent serious health impacts of toxic substances including, cancer, disease and birth defects.

Below are a few highlights which will allow the EPA to raise public safety standards:

  1. Prioritize & Evaluate: EPA will now be required to assess at least 20 chemicals at a time, prioritizing chemicals that are known carcinogens, like asbestos.
  2. Consistency: Once the evaluation is completed the EPA will proceed to eliminate any outstanding risks. In addition, after the EPA has completed a scheduled evaluation they will add a new chemical to the evaluation list.   
  3. Safety First: EPA will now evaluate chemicals purely based on chemical safety and potential health risks. This is a major stride compared to outdated rules that complicated standards and prevented public health protection from known hazards.
  4. Funding: EPA will now have the funding they need to execute these much-needed evaluations and eliminate poisons, by collecting up to $25 million from chemical manufacturers and processers.

America's Most Wanted Harmful Substances

The EPA has until December to select 10 chemicals for regulation and evaluation over the next several years. With the EPA agenda deadline approaching, advocacy groups including Environmental Working Group have been advocating for known carcinogens to be evaluated, with asbestos at the top of the list.

While many Americans believe that asbestos was completely banned in the 1960’s along with the 55 other industrialized nations, the U.S. only banned asbestos in specific uses, meaning the cancer-causing material is still imported and used in common products including, auto parts, vinyl and roofing materials.

Today, asbestos is believed to kill as many as 15,000 Americans per year.

During the White House signing ceremony on June 22, President Obama stated of asbestos and chemical regulation that, “…the system was so complex, 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. I think a lot of Americans would be shocked by that.”

While many bills have attempted to impose a full ban on asbestos-containing products, including the Murray Bill and the Bruce Vento Ban Asbestos and Prevent Mesothelioma Act of 2007, none have been successful in large part due to industry supporters who were able to challenge and convince legislators to overturn proposed bans.

These bills have failed in part due to the former congressional requirement of the EPA to use the “least burdensome” methods to achieve its goals. According to lawsuits opposing the bills, asbestos regulation is less burdensome than a complete ban of the known carcinogen.

The passing of TSCA finally gives the EPA the authority it needs to enforce the complete ban of asbestos products in the United States.

Next Steps: First Year Enactment

The EPA has released a first-year time line to jump-start action under the new bill. In the first year, the EPA plans to divide and conquer dividing action items into a three-part plan:

  1. Immediate Actions - This step will review all new chemicals, requiring anyone who plans to manufacture or import a new chemical substance to provide the EPA with notice 90 days prior to import or manufacture the chemical.
  2. Framework Actions - Includes initial risk evaluations, prioritization and evaluations, fees collection, publishing of proposed inventory of existing chemicals and establishment of an advisory committee.
  3. Early Mandatory Actions - Includes publishing initial risk evaluations by mid-June 2017, updating chemicals for evaluations, mercury inventory and reporting to Congress.

In addition to the one year enactment plan, the EPA has outlined goals for the first few years of implementation which include reports of mercury use, publication of active chemicals, generic names for CBI chemicals and alternative testing methods.

To let the EPA know which chemicals and substances you’d like to see banned, you may write them via the EPA’s website.