Anyone who has seen a TV ad for law firms looking to represent asbestos-exposed victims likely knows there are some serious health risks associated with the substance. However, it may come as a surprise that asbestos can be legally used in many modern products. After years of limiting laws, the Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it would finally try to change that.
The EPA announced 10 toxic chemicals that it would review for new bans after an overhaul to the nation’s chemical regulations earlier this year. Among the chemicals to make the list was asbestos — which currently can be used in products like vinyl flooring and cement shingles — and trichloroethylene, an industrial solvent. While those chemicals have been publicly known to be dangerous for decades, red tape written into federal law meant the EPA has tested very few chemicals and banned even fewer.
Choosing asbestos as one of the first targets is an important symbolic step that could illustrate the effectiveness of the new bill, or not, for some activists.
“Asbestos has long been held up as the poster child of why our chemical law has been broken and if the EPA couldn’t even ban asbestos than it means that our federal regulations of chemicals is really broken,” Melanie Benesh, a legislative attorney at the Environmental Working Group, an environmental advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., told International Business Times. “I think finally choosing asbestos and finally being able to take action to once and for all ban it and get it out of or society is an important symbolic move and I think it is also going to be a test as to whether or not this new law is really better.”
The EPA has planned on reviewing the 10 chemicals under a new authority that lets the agency to regulate based on their human health affects alone. Previously, the EPA was required to consider costs of regulations even when those considerations pushed aside human health concerns.
The new review of chemicals is expected to take around three years to complete and determine if the substances present an unreasonable risk to human health. If they do present that risk, the EPA will have another two years to design bans to mitigate the risk of the chemicals. Under the new legislation, the EPA is only allowed to review 10 chemicals at a time and will be able to review 20 at a time in the future until they have looked at their full list.
“We’re certainly going to be watching to see how these risks evaluations unfold. We’re going to be watching for the rule that gets put out as to how these risk evaluations actually are conducted,” Benesh said. “We think that most consumers have an expectation that carcinogens are not going to be in commerce, that they’re not going to be put into consumer products and we are going to continue to have the expectation that the EPA upholds what consumers thought.”
The recent overhaul, which was the first major rewriting of chemical regulations in 40 years, was a bipartisan effort that included input from health advocates as well as chemical industry players. Those industry interests noted that they wanted to see consistent regulations from the federal government that could make the regulatory landscape for their products easier to navigate. The newest law made it so that federal bans or restrictions put in place by the EPA would supersede any state regulations.