Senators pushing TSCA reform bill that’s missing the law’s poster child

They’ve called it a failure and a broken law. That’s how the public health community, agency officials, some lawmakers and others have characterized the nearly 40 year old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). When any of them are looking for a poster child to illustrate why TSCA’s a failure, they most often point to one toxic: asbestos.

EPA tried in 1989 to ban most uses of asbestos. But TSCA is so convoluted that the ban didn’t withstand a lawsuit which was brought by producers and users of the deadly mineral fibers. So we are stuck with a law in which one of the most well-researched, and proven cancer-causing agent—and products that contain it—-is still legal in the US.  That’s why the Government Accountability Office (here, here and elsewhere) agency officials (e.g., here) and scholars (e.g., herehere, here) use asbestos as the best example of why TSCA is a statute in dire need of reform.

The trouble is that the bill (S.697) reported this week out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee fails to address the poster child. The word “asbestos” appears nowhere in the legislation—it simply gets lumped together with hundreds of other chemicals about which EPA will decide which ones are high priority for a safety assessment.

Linda Reinstein has been following the TSCA reform efforts closely. She is the co-founder and executive director of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO). ADAO is the premiere education and advocacy organization focused on prevention and finding a cure for asbestos-related diseases. Her husband Alan, died at age 66 from pleural mesothelioma.

“As a mesothelioma widow, I’ve seen asbestos serve as the ultimate example for what went wrong with the 1976 TSCA. It would be reprehensible for Congress to pass a phony TSCA reform bill that allows the man-made asbestos disaster to continue.”

Linda is cool headed, but has every right to be angry. How in the world can lawmakers vote for TSCA reform and leave behind the poster child?

“History is a great teacher to those who listen,” she said. “Learn from us – we’ve buried our loved ones – asbestos kills. For the hundreds of thousands of asbestos victims – it would feel like Congress walked on our graves to protect profits over people.”

Senators Boxer (D-CA), Sanders (I-VT), Markey (D-MA) and Gillebrand (D-NY) offered an amendment at this week’s Committee mark-up that would have fixed the poster child problem. It would have required expedited consideration by EPA on an asbestos prohibition or limitation. The nine Democrats on the Committee voted in favor of the amendment. The eleven Republicans voted against it. Majority rules.

Public health and worker safety groups, including the Breast Cancer Fund (here), Center for Environmental Health (here), Environmental Working Group (here), and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (here) were quick to comment on the need for amendments to the S.697. The AFL-CIO urged members of the committee to:

“push for and support an amendment designating asbestos as a high priority and requiring EPA to move forward expeditiously and issue a rule banning asbestos within 3 years.  …Asbestos use should have been banned a long time ago. Any TSCA reform bill needs to make banning asbestos a priority and include a mandate to get it done.”

It can’t be said better than that.