U.S. legislators may soon update the nation’s antiquated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) with a proposed bill aimed at strengthening existing laws that protect us from hazardous chemicals in our homes, schools and workplaces.
But officials with the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) say the bill, known as the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S.697), lacks teeth.
ADAO President Linda Reinstein says the proposed reform, expected to be heard when the U.S. Senate reconvenes in September, could be a rollback that handicaps the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because it fails to specifically address asbestos or a ban on the toxic mineral that causes deadly mesothelioma.
“It’s reprehensible that a reform bill like this doesn’t address asbestos the way we know it should,” Reinstein told Asbestos.com. “It won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on if it doesn’t empower the EPA to act on asbestos. Everyone needs to speak up and let their senators know how badly flawed it is.”
Current Version of S.697 Is Inadequate
Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana introduced S.697 in early March. The bill is designed to “reauthorize and modernize” the TSCA, originally written in 1976.
As written, S.697 shows it “protects the health of children, pregnant women, the elderly, workers, consumers, the general public and the environment from the risks of harmful exposures to chemical substances and mixtures…[and] ensures that appropriate information on chemical substances and mixtures is available to public health officials.”
While that overview sounds comprehensive, it fails to mention asbestos among the bill’s 175 pages. Under the original TSCA, the EPA banned most asbestos-containing products in 1989, but a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1991 overturned that ban using a provision within the flawed TSCA.
The Environment and Public Works Committee considered and amended S.697 in April.
The Senate report shows Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., wanted S.697 “to make it clear that known chemical threats, such as asbestos and chemicals that accumulate in the body” would be addressed.
They also noted asbestos “is not specifically addressed or prioritized in the bill despite its known dangers.”
A majority vote by 11 committee members resulted in the rejection of their proposed amendment “requiring expedited consideration of the regulation of all forms of asbestos, instead of requiring a safety assessment be completed” as called for in the TSCA.
The report showed environmental organizations, including ADAO, also called for additional changes to the bill.
“The fingerprints of the chemical industry are all over this bill,” Reinstein said. “If it gets passed the way it is written now, they have won. Americans have lost.”
In separate legislation, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., also sponsored the Reducing Exposure to Asbestos Database (READ) Act. That bill seeks to amend the Asbestos Information Act of 1988 by creating a public database of asbestos-containing products. His proposal is currently before the Environment and Public Works Committee.
EPA Needs More Clout
Although the TSCA provides the EPA with broad authority to regulate existing chemicals, the EPA has not re-attempted its ban on asbestos. S.697 discourages the EPA from trying again.
However, ADAO and other asbestos-advocacy groups endorse the Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act (S.725), a similar bill proposed earlier this year that specifically prioritizes asbestos, with provisions for the EPA to ban it.
GovTrack, a website that helps users track bills through Congress and predicts their success rate, gives S.725 a 1 percent chance of being enacted. Meanwhile, it foresees S.697 has a 15 percent chance of a passing vote.
ADAO is encouraging everyone through social media to contact their U.S. senators to amend S.697 before it is passed, making sure asbestos is mentioned specifically. Twitter users can also send a prepared tweet.
“It’s really important for everyone to spend three minutes to call both of their senators, and urge them to fix it,” Reinstein said. “It’s time for Congress to end this asbestos, manmade disaster.”