It’s been more than four months since President Barack Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Act into action, amending parts of the Toxic Substances Control Act and requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate chemicals with a new eye toward safety.
According to the Lautenberg Act, the EPA is now required to “establish a risk-based process to determine which chemicals it will prioritize for assessment, identifying them as either 'high' or 'low' priority substances.” High-risk substances are those labeled by the agency as chemicals and substances “presenting an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment due to potential hazard and route of exposure, including to susceptible subpopulations.”
For those working in the mesothelioma and rare cancer spaces, this news could not come at a better time. Asbestos, the material known to cause mesothelioma, is still legal to sell in the United States, and can still be found in several building and automotive applications.
As part of the Lautenberg Act, within the next couple months EPA officials must have ten ongoing chemical evaluations in progress. The number expands to 20 evaluations over the course of the next three years. For families and survivors of mesothelioma, the hope is to see asbestos included in the first round of evaluations.
Last month, the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association came out in support of adding asbestos to the list. The groups cites brake pads and linings containing the dangerous material are cheaper to purchase than other alternatives, making them an alluring choice for do-it-yourselfers and aftermarket installers. However, those same products are not always labeled with asbestos warnings, leaving buyers to do their own research to identify what exactly their parts contain – something which many people do not do.
The EPA has gone on record in recent weeks saying they will have a completed list of ten chemicals sometime in December, and the agency has already decided to take expedited action on five Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) chemicals. Among them are Hexachlorobutadiene (HCBD), used in rubber compounds and as a solvent, and two other chemicals used as a flame retardant in consumer products and textiles.
So what does all of this mean for those in the mesothelioma community? If asbestos is added to the EPA’s prioritized assessment queue and it identified as a high-risk substance, recent legislation introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) becomes even more relevant. This is not the first time Boxer has brought forth legislation aimed at banning asbestos in the United States. In March 2015, Boxer stepped forward with the Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act, which was referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Past pushes to ban the toxic substance have been met with mixed results. The EPA has already banned the manufacture and importation of certain asbestos-containing products through the Toxic Substances Control Act, including flooring felt and rollboard. Other asbestos products, like pipe and block insulation, have been banned under the Clean Air Act, while asbestos found in artificial embers in fireplaces and wall patching compounds have been included in the Consumer Product Safety Act.
Although the government has acted appropriate with the use of legislation to ban some asbestos applications, there are still a wide variety of parts and products that are still in use. The mineral is still used primarily in automotive parts, including disk brake pads, brake linings and clutch facings because of their ability to withstand heat, and in cement piping, sheeting and shingles.
More than 40 years after the government banned its first asbestos product, the fight rages on. However, with additional pressure on the EPA to take a closer look at certain chemicals, this may be the best opportunity in years to finally ban asbestos once and for all.