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Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Reform or an Irreversible Rollback?

asbestos abatement
Asbestos Abatement
Photo: NAVFAC (, CC)

Almost 40 years after the revolutionary Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 was signed into law, our world has changed in countless ways through technological, social, and legislative advancements. However, TSCA has been untouched and unchanged – until now. While an updated TSCA could yield incredibly beneficial health and safety advantages, the proposed legislation as written is actually an irreversible rollback – not reform.

The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) proudly stands with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF) and hundreds of public health, environmental, and business groups who have come together to push Congress and retailers for strong action on toxic chemicals.

September is an important month. Our children returned to school, we raised awareness about the hazardous chemicals that workers are exposed to; we recognized the brave 9/11 heroes and survivors exposed to high levels of toxins, and we will honor and remember our loved ones on September 26th for Mesothelioma Awareness Day.

It was in 2003 when my family heard the dreaded word – mes·o·the·li·o·ma – when my husband Alan was diagnosed. Alan fought a courageous three-year battle and died in 2006 with our then 13-year old daughter and me by his side. Alan paid the ultimate price for his job — his life.

The question I hear every day is “How can asbestos still be legal in the USA today?”

Decades ago, the EPA recognized that asbestos, a known human carcinogen, is hazardous to public health and the environmental.

As the EPA states, “In 1989, the EPA issued a final rule under Section 6 of Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) banning most asbestos-containing products. However, in 1991, this rule was vacated and remanded by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. As a result, most of the original ban on the manufacture, importation, processing, or distribution in commerce for the majority of the asbestos-containing products originally covered in the 1989 final rule was overturned.”

Asbestos is mistakenly believed to be one of the five chemicals banned under the 1976 TSCA, yet the EPA was only able to ban the manufacture, importation, processing and distribution in commerce of these five products:

  • Corrugated paper
  • Rollboard
  • Commercial paper
  • Specialty paper
  • Flooring felt

The process of shaping public policy often feels glacially slow. As Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention has stated, “More than three and a half decades since the passage of TSCA, the EPA has only been able to require testing on just a little more than 200 of the 84,000 chemicals listed on the TSCA inventory and has regulated or banned only five of these chemicals.”

National Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families campaign director Andy Igrejas and I have repeatedly testified at congressional hearings in support of real TSCA reform. SCHF and ADAO were excited to watch the introduction of the “Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act” (S.725) proposed by Senators Boxer and Markey this year, but our hopes and dreams did not come to fruition.

To many, it seems as though progress is near through legislation such as the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697), a move to reauthorize and modernize TSCA by imposing stricter regulations on toxic chemicals, including asbestos.

Yet, as written, S. 697 weakens the failed 1976 TSCA and doesn’t mention expedited action to ban asbestos or other Persistent Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) chemicals. A robust testing plan is urgently needed. It would take the EPA more than a 100 years to test the most hazardous 1,000 chemicals that have been grandfathered into commerce. Americans demand and deserve legislation written by the people for the people – not by special interests such as the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

Asbestos is still the biggest workplace killer in the world.

For more than 100 years, we have known that asbestos exposure leads to horrific diseases, yet it remains legal and lethal today and imports continue. Every day, 40 Americans die from preventable asbestos-caused diseases. Most Americans can’t identify asbestos or manage the risk. When you combine a lack of asbestos awareness with a lack of appropriate government regulation, something horrifying happens: Americans unknowingly use products that contain asbestos.

On September 11, 2001, we watched in horror as two planes crashed iLindaBlognto the World Trade Center (WTC). As buildings smoldered, firefighters, first responders, and volunteers who rushed to save lives, they were blanketed by tons of pulverized WTC debris that was laced with toxic substances such as asbestos, ground glass, lead, gypsum, and calcite.

But it is not just workers who become exposed and poisoned by asbestos – it’s their spouses and children as well. Unknowingly, workers can carry home asbestos on their clothes and in their hair, thus resulting in secondary exposure. Studies have proven that spouses and children who inhale asbestos from workers’ clothes can also develop and be diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos-caused diseases.

More than 31 million metric tons of asbestos have been used in buildings and consumer products, and can also be found in our homes, schools, workplaces, and even the toys our children play with. In fact, asbestos recently has been found in crayons.

As Acting U.S. Surgeon General Boris Lushniak stated: “The asbestos issue is not a thing of the past. It continues to this day.”

Congress must work together—on behalf of those silenced by asbestos and other toxins—to pass a TSCA bill that will ensure the EPA can expeditiously manage the risk of asbestos exposure. As a mesothelioma widow, I remind Congress that for every life lost from asbestos, a shattered family is left behind.

As the Chinese Proverb says, “Out of the hottest fire comes the strongest steel.” I am certain our coalition is galvanized for the fight.

ADAO- asbestos