On June 22nd the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was signed into law by the president. This new act will serve as an update to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) which has been notorious for its ineffectiveness. Most notably, TSCA’s weakness is responsible for the United States’ failure to ban asbestos.
Stronger EPA, Safer Products
After decades without making progress for chemical reform because of disagreements, Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to create a compromise. The new Chemical Safety Act was passed successfully because it’s a bipartisan effort.
Asbestos is proven to be dangerous and is the only known cause of mesothelioma. This new law is an opportunity for a country-wide ban. “Under this legislation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the clear authority to ban asbestos, a known human carcinogen for which there is no safe level of exposure,” said Linda Reinstein.
Here are some of the improvements in the new Chemical Safety Act:
- The EPA must now only take health and environmental factors into account when regulating toxic substances. Previously, the EPA also needed to evaluate and choose the “least burdensome” plan of action for industry, which was the reason the EPA could not ban asbestos. Now, the EPA will still evaluate cost but it shouldn’t keep them from making regulations.
- Special attention will be paid to populations who may be disproportionately affected by toxic substances such as children, pregnant women, or the elderly.
- Deadlines will be set to keep progress on track. Also, the EPA will decide which chemicals are the most important to evaluate first. This will give them the opportunity to put asbestos at the top of their list.
- Manufacturers will have to submit a notice to the EPA before it can begin producing a new chemical. The EPA will have the power to decide if the new chemical is safe or it can require testing for new chemicals before they go on the market. It will also be able to review chemicals that are already on the market.
This new act has support from many organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, an organization of manufacturers, and the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group.
Possible Hurdles In The Race to Ban Asbestos
The new chemical safety act, which was criticized for being too weak, has several flaws. Some critics worry that the act won’t be effective enough to ban asbestos any time soon. If the act is too slow or ineffective, people will continue to be exposed to asbestos and develop mesothelioma.
Here are some of the problems with the new Chemical Safety Act:
- It inhibits state’s ability to regulate toxic substances. In the past, because of TSCA’s inability to do much regulating on a federal level, states have had to make their own legislation to protect their citizens. Most existing state laws will be grandfathered in under the new Chemical Safety Act. However, the new law restricts how and when states can regulate substances.
- Regulation will take many years. There are over 80,000 toxic substances in use in the USA and very few of them have been regulated at all. The EPA already has 90 dangerous substances in mind to regulate first, but even these will most likely take over a decade to evaluate.
- Success with the new act will rely on the EPA receiving enough money and support to accomplish their goals. The EPA has received a lot of opposition from the Republican party in the past, some politicians have even wanted to eliminate the EPA altogether.
In her latest press release about the new act, Linda Reinstein praised the government for making progress, but made clear that speed may be a huge issue:
The Desperate Need for an Update
The Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976. For several years the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was able to review and regulate toxic substances. The EPA was able to ban asbestos in 1989 but it was overturned after appeals from manufacturers. Since then the EPA has not regulated any toxic substances and it became obvious that TSCA did not give the EPA enough power.
A fact that may surprise many people is that in the United States very few chemicals have been regulated or even reviewed. Toxic substances don’t have to be reviewed by the EPA before they go on the market. In fact, even though there are over 80,000 toxic substances being used in the U.S., the EPA has only reviewed a few hundred substances and has not regulated any substances since 1990.
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