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Asbestos Goes Under EPA Microscope

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

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The Environmental Protection Agency is taking aim at 10 chemicals, including asbestos, using new powers granted to the agency by the recently enacted Toxic Substance Control Act reforms.

“Under the new law, we now have the power to require safety reviews of all chemicals in the marketplace,” said Jim Jones, assistant administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “We can ensure the public that we will deliver on the promise to better protect public health and the environment.”

The table below lists the chemicals.


Symbolic Choice

According to the EPA, asbestos, which is a known human carcinogen, is used in “chlor-alkali production, consumer products, coatings and compounds, plastics, roofing products and other applications.” It is also found in certain imported products such as gaskets, brakes, friction products, packing materials and building materials, and is a major health concern in shipyards.

The EPA's selection of asbestos as one of the first 10 chemicals it will review and potentially ban is an important symbol, according to Melanie Benesh, a legislative attorney at the Environmental Working Group.

“Asbestos has long been held up as the poster child of why our chemical law has been broken and if the EPA couldn’t even ban asbestos [then] it means that our federal regulations of chemicals is really broken,” Melanie Benesh told the International Business Times. “I think finally choosing asbestos and finally being able to take action to once and for all ban it and get it out of or society is an important symbolic move and I think it is also going to be a test as to whether or not this new law is really better.”

New Law Requirements

In June, President Barack Obama signed into law legislation that revised the TSCA for the first time since 1976.

Official White House Photo / Pete Souza

For decades, environmental and health advocates have complained that the country’s primary chemical management law was broken and weak, allowing as many as 85,000 untested chemicals to enter the marketplace. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act seeks to change that.

EPA’s first list of chemicals to be evaluated was drawn from the agency’s 2014 TSCA Work Plan—a list of 90 chemicals selected based on their potential for high hazard and exposure as well as other considerations.

The agency published its list early. The TSCA, as amended by the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, required the agency to publish this list by Dec. 19.

Once published in Federal Register, it will trigger a statutory deadline to complete risk evaluations for these chemicals within three years. 

This evaluation will determine whether the chemicals present an unreasonable risk to humans and the environment. If it is determined that a chemical presents an unreasonable risk, EPA must act within two years, which could mean banning the chemical.

asbestos warning
© / ScottKrycia

Some say the EPA's selection of asbestos as one of the first 10 chemicals it will review and potentially ban is an important symbol.

Advocacy groups urge manufacturers to replace these chemicals with safer alternatives now rather than wait five years or more for the EPA to complete reviews and regulations.

More Evaluations Coming

Additional chemicals will be designated for evaluation, and all of the remaining Work Plan chemicals will be reviewed for their potential hazard and exposure, EPA says.

For each risk evaluation that EPA completes, TSCA requires that EPA begin another.

By the end of 2019, the agency says it must have at least 20 chemical risk evaluations ongoing at any given time.

For more information on the chemicals chosen first, click here.


Tagged categories: Asbestos; Coating chemistry; Construction chemicals; Environmental Protection; EPA; Health & Safety; Health and safety; North America; Regulations; Workers

Comment from Beran Black, (12/12/2016, 12:05 PM)

Where is investigation going on for nano products that have exploded in use in all industries from pesticides, sunscreen and makeup,clothing, interior paints, industrial coatings, etc? Nano drivers used in conjunction with glyphosate allow it to penetrate into produce. It is being found in places where it shouldn't be. They are ten times smaller than the human cell. Even if the chemical itself is not toxic to the body the effect as a cell disruptor is possible. With the cancer, autoimmune and endocrine issues we currently face, why is there not more focus on this technology and where it is being used? When we realize what the harmful effects are it will be asbestos to the infinite power!

Comment from M. Halliwell, (12/13/2016, 10:42 AM)

Beran, this is only the first 10...lots more to do. Nano tech definitely needs to be looked at, I agree, but considering some of the attitudes toward asbestos still seen in comments here on PSN, the fact it isn't banned and all the places I continue to find it, it's definitely one that needs a review.

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