Sen. Boxer: EPA Should Include Asbestos in Top Priorities

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California speaking at podium

Selecting the 10 most dangerous chemicals in the U.S. is the first order of business under the recently strengthened arm of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“EPA must consider all forms of asbestos in this initial list of chemicals it acts on,” U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., wrote in an Aug. 26 letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy.

President Barack Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act into law in June, updating the antiquated Toxic Substances Control Act and granting the EPA more power to regulate toxic chemicals.

Boxer, a ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, declared the top 10 list will dictate the agency’s agenda for the next several decades, making it crucial that asbestos lead the list.

Asbestos is the leading cause of mesothelioma. The incurable cancer claims the lives of nearly 3,000 people in the U.S. annually.

Boxer Sends EPA Asbestos Consumption & Deaths in U.S.

According to Boxer’s letter, she said it’s necessary “to build confidence in the agency’s ability to deliver meaningful results for our children and families.”

She cited several statistics from the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and the Environmental Working Group for her recommendation:

  • 15,000 annual asbestos-related deaths in U.S.
  • 11,000 deaths from lung cancer
  • Since 2006, a total of 23 U.S. ports received more than 8.2 million pounds of raw asbestos

In 2015, the annual report of the United States Geological Service showed asbestos consumption in the U.S. weighed an estimated 400 tons. The chloralkali industry, which produces the chlorine used to disinfect water, was listed as the primary consumer of the asbestos, but it also was used for coatings, compounds, plastics and roofing products.

“The combination of well-documented, widespread and serious health effects and ongoing exposure provides a strong basis for EPA to act quickly on asbestos,” Boxer said.

McCarthy’s office did not return calls for comment to Asbestos.com.

More Nations Are Banning Asbestos

The World Health Organization in 2006 called for a global end to asbestos, which is known to cause the incurable cancer mesothelioma and numerous other health-related issues.

Fifty-six nations already heeded the warning and banned the toxic substance, including the European Union and Japan. Canada is currently considering a moratorium on the mineral.

Boxer reminded McCarthy the Occupational Safety and Health Administration shares this national concern: “OSHA has similarly said it is ‘aware of no instance in which exposure to a toxic substance has more clearly demonstrated detrimental health effects on humans that has asbestos exposure.’”

New Law Bolsters EPA’s Power to Regulate Asbestos

While the original TSCA law, passed in 1989, was too weak to allow the EPA to make any major headway in the regulation of lethal chemicals, this new reform beefs up the agency’s authority, allowing them to:

  • Decisively evaluate existing chemicals with clear and enforceable deadlines as mandated by the law.
  • Create a new risk-based safety standard.
  • Increase public transparency for chemical information.
  • Provide ongoing funding to execute its responsibilities under the new law.

The bipartisan measure received overwhelming support in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, and supporters are hopeful it will put an end to asbestos importation, as well as increase regulation of other dangerous chemicals.

  1. U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works. (2016, August 26). Senator Barbara Boxer Calls on EPA to Act Now on Dangerous Asbestos Under the New TSCA Law. Retrieved from http://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases-democratic?ID=5593AE03-95B6-4986-8394-E12C77C94CDA
  2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act for the 21st Century. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/frank-r-lautenberg-chemical-safety-21st-century-act

Beth Swantek has been writing professionally for 30 years. She is a former news reporter and anchor for a CBS affiliate in Michigan and often reported breaking medical and political news. Currently, she teaches media writing and video production at Lawrence Technological University in the Detroit area, as well as working as a freelance writer and producer.

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