Boxer Pushes EPA to Review Asbestos Under New Chemicals Law

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By Sam Pearson

Aug. 26 — The Environmental Protection Agency must lay the groundwork to take action against asbestos by flagging the substance for review later this year, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said in an Aug. 26 letter to the agency.

Under the new Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, the EPA is supposed to give priority to known carcinogens like asbestos. The agency is required to select the first 10 chemicals for evaluation by Dec. 22.

Adding asbestos to the list would be just the first step in a regulatory process that could still take several years. If an asbestos ban was justified under the law’s provisions, it could eventually force companies in fields such as the chlor-alkali industry to remove asbestos-containing products from their operations.

In the letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Boxer said including asbestos among the initial 10 substances would send a signal that EPA was serious about making the most of the new law, which updates the Toxic Substances Control Act.

“The chemicals selected will drive EPA’s agenda for the next several years,” Boxer wrote. “To build confidence in the agency’s ability to deliver meaningful results for our children and families, EPA must consider all forms of asbestos in this initial list of chemicals it acts on.”

In previous comments, industry groups have pushed for the agency to select the 10 chemicals from its existing Toxic Substances Control Act Chemical Work Plan list. Asbestos and asbestos-like fibers were added to the work plan in 2012, but unlike some other chemicals on the list, EPA has not initiated a risk assessment or other regulatory actions.

In a statement to Bloomberg BNA Aug. 26, the EPA said it had received the letter.

“The agency welcomes input from all stakeholders on this and other issues related to implementation of this important new law,” the statement said.

Poster Substance for Reform

Although asbestos has not been mined in the U.S. since 2002, more than 8.2 million pounds of the mineral were imported from 2006 to 2015, according to a March 2015 EWG Action Fund report that analyzed import data.

Asbestos played a prominent role in EPA’s early efforts to restrict hazardous chemicals. In 1991, the EPA’s proposed asbestos ban was struck down when a federal appeals court ruled the agency failed to consider alternatives to a ban. Corrosion Proof Fittings v. EPA, 5th Cir., No. 947, 10/18/91

The ruling, which exposed the limitations of the Toxic Substances Control Act, was among the reasons cited for overhauling the law. Whether legislation would be sufficient to ban asbestos became a key test for many advocacy groups.

“The system was so complex, it was 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,” President Barack Obama said at a signing ceremony for the new law June 22. “I think a lot of Americans would be shocked by all that.”

Obama’s words were huge for public health advocates, Linda Reinstein, president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 26.

Reinstein said Boxer’s letter showed the EPA “that although TSCA reform was signed into law, it doesn’t mean that any of the sponsors or co-sponsors are going to walk away and ignore implementation.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Pearson in Washington at spearson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

The Boxer letter is available at http://src.bna.com/h4T.

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