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The Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013 - Yet Another Obstacle to Banning Asbestos in the U.S 

The Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013 (S. 1009) (CSIA) is a bill currently before congress. The legislation is designed to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. Many public health advocates who support TSCA reform do not support the CSIA as it is currently written, believing that the chemical industry is behind the draft legislation.

On July 31, 2013, Linda Reinstein, President of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, and a long-time leader in the effort to ban asbestos in the U.S., testified before the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee (EPWC) at a hearing in support of TSCA reform. According to Ms. Reinstein, the CSIA as currently drafted would do more harm to public health and the environment than good. As detailed in the ADAO position paper, the current version of the CSIA would make it virtually impossible for the EPA to phase out or ban harmful substances already on the market. This, of course, would create yet another obstacle to banning asbestos. As Ms. Reinstein explained in her testimony, even though the World Health Organization, International Labor Organization, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and our Surgeon General all agree that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, usage of asbestos in some industries in the U.S. has increased.

The CSIA, as currently drafted, places the burden on the EPA to find that a substance is unsafe, rather than requiring chemical companies to prove that substances are safe. The CSIA also lacks deadlines which would require the EPA to quickly to assess and restrict the use of harmful substances. The bill would retain the unworkable standard of review in the TSCA which ultimately prevented EPA from being able to ban asbestos in 1989. Lastly, and probably the most far-reaching, is the language in the bill that would undercut a state’s ability to enforce existing laws or pass new ones against harmful substances.

A Los Angeles Times editorial states that TSCA has been, for all intents and purposes, out of commission since the EPA lost a lawsuit more than 20 years ago involving asbestos regulation. Shortly after the EPA issued a ban on asbestos in 1989, under authority of the TSCA, trade associations that represented U.S. and Canadian asbestos companies filed suit and a federal appeals court overturned the ban in 1991, ruling that the EPA failed to muster substantial evidence to support its rule to ban the substance.

In the 37 years that TSCA has been in effect, only 200 of the 85,000 industrial chemicals in use, not including pesticides, have been tested or regulated. The LA times piece goes onto explain that, under the bill, once the EPA designates a chemical as “high priority” for regulation, the chemical would then be under federal jurisdiction, and any state laws governing it would cease to have any authority. The EPA could then leave the chemical untested and unregulated for years. A clear gift to the chemical industry.

The website Beyond Pesticides published a letter from nine state Attorneys General to the EPWC expressing their, “deep concerns about the unduly broad preemption language proposed in CSIA.” Legislation needs to respect the rights of the states to protect their residents when the federal government fails to do so.

Science, not industry influence, must drive policy, writes John Replogle in a commentary published in the digital journal Roll Call. The onus must be on chemical manufacturers to demonstrate that the chemicals they use are safe, and the federal government must have the regulatory tools and financial resources to make this so.

Supporters of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act would have us believe it will enhance public safety and promote innovation, economic growth, and job creation by American manufacturers. As the bill is currently written, individual states would lose the power to protect their citizens and local environments from dangerous chemicals and hazardous materials, such as asbestos. Meaningful legislation needs to be passed that strengthens the protections for the people of this country by improving existing safeguards, not stripping them away.

Along with her testimony, Ms. Reinstein hand-delivered a petition with over 2,500 signatures to ban asbestos use in the United States. You can sign the petition here.