Asbestos Opponents Fight Federal Bill that Would Keep Asbestos Legal

A bill being debated in Congress would seriously weaken federal ability to regulate toxic chemicals, including asbestos.

A heated debate is raging in Congress and across the country about dueling proposed federal bills that would amend current laws that regulate toxic chemicals like asbestos. Three bills were introduced in March 2015 that each approach the problem very differently.

According to the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization or ADAO, the U.S. and Canada are the only two western industrialized countries without asbestos bans. One of the bills would require the federal Environmental Protection Agency or EPA, the agency charged with keeping us safe from toxic chemicals, to quickly consider an all-out asbestos ban.

Background on the TSCA

The main federal law currently governing matters related to the import and export of toxic chemicals is the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 or TSCA. Among the matters related to dangerous substances that are regulated by the TSCA are: compliance with U.S. standards of imported chemicals, EPA notification of intended exports, new chemicals and uses, testing, recordkeeping, reporting and special provisions controlling certain deadly chemicals, including asbestos.

Critics of the TSCA charge that it is outdated and not tough enough on industry. Specifically, advocates for asbestos victims say that it does not give the EPA adequate power to restrict the use and importation of asbestos.

Bill Supported by Asbestos Opponents

Those who support an asbestos ban and tougher regulation of dangerous substances support two of the bills:

  • The Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act (S. 725), introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., would reform the TSCA by markedly tightening regulation of the most dangerous chemicals, including asbestos, by increasing EPA and states' power to regulate these chemicals, toughening safety standards and requiring the EPA to consider an all-out ban on asbestos, which still kills more than 10,000 Americans annually, according to the ADAO.
  • The Reducing Exposure to Asbestos Database or READ Act (S. 700), introduced by Sen. Dick Durban, D-Ill., as well as Sen. Markey, would create an online, searchable public database of products containing asbestos to give Americans open access to the information that they need to stay safe from asbestos exposure at work and at home.

The Controversial Bill

The Frank R. Lautenberg 21st Century Chemical Safety Act (S. 697) was introduced by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., is widely opposed by environmentalists and safety advocates as weakening existing law already criticized as ineffective and toothless. The proposal does not ban, or even mention, asbestos and is seen as industry friendly.

In fact, in her press release announcing her opposing bill, Sen. Boxer says that her bill is endorsed by more than 450 environmental and health organizations, while the Udall-Vitter bill has direct input from the chemical industry itself.

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