Major changes are in the works for how the U.S. regulates the usage of dangerous and toxic substances. In fact, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) is “confident” that these changes will take place in 2016. This means that the use of hazardous chemicals and substances, like asbestos, may soon be subject to much tougher restrictions and regulations than ever before in U.S. history.
Chemical and toxic substance usage in the United States is currently regulated by outdated legislation known as the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The Act is not only antiquated, it’s flawed – and it hasn’t been significantly amended since 1976.
The TSCA Failed to Eliminate Asbestos Usage
The old TSCA laws fundamentally dropped the ball when it came to regulating the commercial use of asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous mineral to which there is no safe level of exposure. When inadvertently inhaled, it can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and gastrointestinal cancers. Asbestos was once used in many consumer and industrial products due to its strengthening properties, and because it is heat- and fire-resistant and fairly inexpensive.
When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried to ban the use of asbestos in 1989, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the EPA failed to show that their proposed rule was the “least burdensome alternative” as is required under the TSCA. Thus, asbestos was still able to be used commercially due to the fact that the TSCA made it near impossible to get certain toxic substances banned due to all the hoops it made the EPA jump through.
The Senate & The House Both Passed TSCA Reform Bills in 2015
A bill introduced by Senator Udall on March 10, 2015, and backed by a bipartisan group of senators, hopes to change all of this by ensuring that no “unreasonable risk of harm to health or the environment will result from exposure to a chemical.” This bill has been named the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. It was passed by the Senate on December 17, 2015.
A companion bill entitled the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 was introduced by Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) on May 26, 2015. The House of Representatives quickly passed the proposed bill with some revisions on June 23, 2015. The bill managed to pass with a 398 to 1 vote in support of the reform.
How Would the TSCA Be Updated?
Under both proposed bills, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be granted more authority over chemical testing. The Act would also require stricter safety reviews for all chemicals in commercial use, as well necessitate safety findings for all new chemicals before they could enter the market. This means the Act would mandate that the more than 62,000 dangerous chemicals that were already “grandfathered’ in for continual use under the TSCA would be subject to stricter standards and review.
Additionally, the proposed legislation would also replace TSCA’s cost-benefit standard with a health-based safety standard. The TSCA’s current cost-benefit standard is what prevented the EPA from banning dangerous substances like asbestos in the past. The Act would also extend greater protection to vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women. Finally, new laws would make information about dangerous chemicals and substances more transparent, so that companies could not simply claim confidentiality as a means to avoid disclosing the types and amounts of dangerous substances that they use.
TSCA Reform of Any Kind Is a Good Thing, but There’s Still a Long Way to Go
There are still many issues that need to be ironed out before a final bill can be passed. Scheduling, funding, deadlines for review, and implementation policies need to be figured out and prioritized in order for TSCA reform to be successful. As expected, various agencies and lobbying and industry groups are offering their input as to what they would like to see prioritized in the bill.
Many Americans have lost confidence that the 114th Congress is even capable of passing any type of major law due to infighting and partisan friction, but Senator Udall is convinced that Congress has a “very strong bill.” Congress is actively working to resolve the 2 bills to ensure that TSCA reform becomes a reality. “We are going to get this done this year, sooner rather than later, and make sure the American people have the protection they deserve,” Senator Udall has promised.
Reforming TSCA is a crucial step in eliminating harmful chemicals and substances that are toxic to people and the environment. The fact that a majority of Senators and Representatives have supported an overhaul of the TSCA gives hope to those who have suffered from toxic exposure to substances like asbestos. While we can’t undo the past injustices that weak environmental laws at least partially caused, tougher regulations will help to ensure that future generations of Americans have limited exposure to the deadly toxins and substances that have hurt millions of Americans over the years.
Perspectives are finally changing when it comes to hazardous substances and TSCA reform is a welcomed change that all Americans should support!