On June 22, President Barack Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act into law.
The legislation, which received bipartisan support by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, includes long overdue improvements to the nation’s primary chemicals regulation and management law, the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA).
In his remarks at the bill signing, Obama said Congress originally passed the TSCA in 1976 in order to protect people from harmful chemicals in everyday products so that materials would not cause serious health issues including cancer or birth defects. But, of the estimated 62,000 chemicals already on the market in 1976, only five have been banned.
“And only a tiny percentage have even been reviewed for health and safety,” Obama said.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks before signing the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Obama said the TSCA system was “so complex, it was so burdensome that our country hasn’t even been able to uphold a ban on asbestos — a known carcinogen that kills as many as 10,000 Americans every year. I think a lot of Americans would be shocked by all that.”
The new law is geared to make it easier for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review chemicals already on the market and new chemicals.
The EPA will now require manufacturers and processors to pay fees to defray the cost of the bill’s provisions.
The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), advocates for eliminating asbestos-related diseases including mesothelioma by preventing exposure to asbestos worldwide, welcomed the new law, a product of three years of negotiation begun by the bill’s namesake. Lautenberg was a five-term New Jersey senator and public health champion who died in 2013.
“For too long, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 has failed to protect American families from harmful and deadly toxins, including asbestos,” said ADAO president and co-founder Linda Reinstein in a statement before the new law was signed.
The ADAO estimates that about 15,000 Americans die annually from asbestos-caused diseases.
“After countless hours of negotiations and numerous hearings in which ADAO presented the deadly and devastating impact asbestos has on American families our voices and our stories were heard,” Reinstein said in the statement.
But while the new law is a step forward, the fight against asbestos in the environment is far from over, she said. Under the new legislation, the EPA will have seven years to assess, regulate, and ban asbestos. According to Reinstein, an estimated 100,000 could die during the seven-year ramp-up while countless more are exposed to asbestos.
Reinstein called the TSCA reform a test for the efficacy of this bill, and called for the EPA to limit delay by including asbestos in the first set of materials to be evaluated, and then by issuing a final ban.
In May, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to bringing Canada closer to joining fifty-six other countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Australia, in legislation for a sweeping asbestos ban. Canada, formerly a major asbestos exporter, stopped mining asbestos in 2012.
According to the information site www.canadianasbestosexports.ca, the lethal mineral is still Canada’s number one occupational killer. In 2015 the country imported 8.3 million worth of asbestos related construction products and automotive parts. According to the Canadian Labour Congress, asbestos is the leading cause of workplace-related death in Canada.
As reported by CBC News, Trudeau said during a building trades union convention in Ottawa that the nation is moving forward on the ban.
“We know that its impact on workers far outweighs any benefits that it might provide,” Trudeau said.
In April, the nation’s main purchasing agent Public Services and Procurement Canada prohibited asbestos products in new construction and renovations of federal buildings.