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EPA Rolls Back Toxic Substance Review

Monday, October 30, 2017

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The Environmental Protection Agency is now saying that it is tightening the parameters of a congressionally mandated review of chemicals in public use, effectively leaving out millions of tons of asbestos, flame retardants and other toxins.

Last year, former President Barack Obama enacted a review for the EPA to look at chemicals and toxins that were already in use, in addition to the ones coming into the marketplace.

© iStock / MarcelC

The Environmental Protection Agency is now saying that it is tightening the parameters of a congressionally mandated review of chemicals in public use, effectively leaving out millions of tons of asbestos, flame retardants and other toxins.

In January, Obama said that the EPA would judge chemicals in a comprehensive way based on their “known, intended and reasonably foreseen uses.”

That received pushback from different areas, including the chemicals industry and some in the construction industry, with some arguing that it placed an undue burden on companies and the EPA when there are already regulations in place. The new administration agreed and tightened the scope of the review.

Now, the EPA told the Associated Press last Wednesday (Oct. 25) that it will only focus on new toxins entering commerce and will not consider whether new handling or disposal rules are needed for previously existing materials.

"EPA considers that such purposes generally fall outside of the circumstances Congress intended EPA to consider," said EPA spokesperson Enesta Jones.

For asbestos in particular, that means that the few hundred tons that are imported annually will be reviewed, but the estimated 8.9 million tons of asbestos-containing products that have entered the marketplace between 1970-2016 will not, according to the AP.

The AP reported that Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, one of the law’s co-authors, disputes the claim that Congress wanted this now-narrow definition.

© iStock / BanksPhotos

Now, the EPA will only focus on new toxins entering commerce and will not consider whether new handling or disposal rules are needed for previously existing materials.

 

"It doesn't matter whether the dangerous substance is no longer being manufactured; if people are still being exposed, then there is still a risk," Udall told AP. "Ignoring these circumstances would openly violate the letter and the underlying purpose of the law."

Like Udall, proponents of the original review under Obama argue that these toxins are killing and seriously injuring workers (in the construction and firefighting fields, for example), families and the public in general, therefore more should be done to protect everyone.

"It's bad medicine, and it's harmful," said Michael Harbut, an internal medicine professor at Detroit's Wayne State University and medical adviser to an insulation workers' union. "There's still a lot of asbestos out there. It's still legal, it's still deadly, and it's going to be a problem for decades to come."

   

Tagged categories: Asbestos; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); EPA; President Obama; President Trump; Regulations

Comment from Phil Kabza, (10/30/2017, 7:55 AM)

Construction trade work is tough enough without our exposing workers to hazardous substances. Young people, especially unskilled laborers, who are entering construction employment often find work with marginal employers who ignore safety provisions and don't insist on PPEs for their workers. Some of the related exposures will take years to have an impact on the health of these workers. Relaxing standards and pretending that the industry will police itself is at best naive. The workers, and taxpayers who fund their late in life medical expenses, are the ones left on the hook for this kind of government handout to corporate interests.


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