Senator Boxer Tells EPA to Get Serious about Banning Asbestos Under New Chemical Safety Law

In a letter sent directly to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) urges the U.S. regulatory agency to take action on asbestos — now — by flagging the known carcinogen for review in December of this year. Doing so, she says, will send a crucial signal to the American public: that this new law is to be taken seriously.

Under the new chemical and substance safety law, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, the EPA is required to review 10 substances for further regulatory measures, or potential ban. In addition, the agency is also supposed to give priority to known carcinogens, such as asbestos. Given the intention of the bill, zeroing in on asbestos should be a no-brainer.

As it presently stands, the EPA is required to select the first 10 chemicals and substances to be reviewed by December 22nd, 2016. Then they will begin conducting research on the hazardous nature of these chemicals in early 2017. Unfortunately, merely adding a substance — such as asbestos, for example — to this list does not ensure that swift and impactful change will be made. Rather, adding a chemical or a substance to this review list is merely the first step in a process that is likely to take several years.

Under New TSCA, Is Asbestos Ban a Possibility?

A ban on asbestos is possible, certainly, as long as the test results of the EPA’s research demonstrate that asbestos — in any form — poses a danger to people who inhale it. Proving this shouldn’t be difficult, especially given that the substance has been noted as a “carcinogen” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for years.

If such a ban on asbestos is deemed necessary after the EPA’s multi-year review process, it is no doubt certain industries in the U.S. would be affected, and companies, such as Georgia-Pacific, Koch Industries, Honeywell, Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, and many others in the chlor-alkali business sector would see a downturn in profits.

This, of course, is a welcome change, given that these companies and the organizations that they belong to are some of the major lobbying arms that have been essentially bribing Congress for years to keep the deadly (but profitable) substance from being banned by the U.S. government. These same companies, shamefully, know and have known about asbestos’ lethal nature for decades. The mineral, when inhaled, can cause deadly and irreversible diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis, and the exclusively asbestos-caused mesothelioma.

Boxer’s Letter

In Senator Boxer’s letter to the EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, Boxer notes that including asbestos on the EPA’s first list of 10, would send a 2-pronged signal: 1) That the EPA is serious about the new law, and 2) That industry cannot hide behind shady lobbying practices for much longer. Boxer writes:

“I am sure you share my strong interest in maximizing the success of the new Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and are working to identify positive early actions that demonstrate the Agency's commitment to bold and effective implementation… To build confidence in the agency's ability to deliver meaningful results for our children and families, EPA must consider all forms of asbestos in this initial list of chemicals it acts on.”

It is clear that Boxer wants to hold the Environmental Protection Agency accountable. Assuming that they are operating as they should, their fundamental goal should be to protect Americans and keep them safe from needless danger. To Boxer, and to countless other environmental groups, non-profit organizations, and families of men and women who have been injured by asbestos, the EPA will certainly be doing its job well if they do seek to move on asbestos.

Boxer also states, quite poignantly, that asbestos has become a “poster child for the inadequacy of the old law and a major impetus for TSCA reform.” She is right. The fact that asbestos has evaded a ban for nearly 3 decades is outrageous. And what’s worse? In that time, hundreds of thousands of men and women have died, families have been torn apart, and the science has only become more and more sound: asbestos is a mass killer.

It’s Been Far Too Long… The Time to Act Is Right Now

In her letter to Administrator McCarthy, Boxer alludes to Congress’s passing of this historic TSCA reform bill. Indeed a divided Congress not only came together to pass such a bill, they also made it quite clear that, with the backing of President Obama, asbestos should be one of the EPA’s top priorities in the foreseeable future. “The bill,” Boxer writes, “directs EPA to give priority to chemicals like asbestos that are known human carcinogens and have high acute and chronic toxicity.”

It’s clear that Senator Boxer has Americans’ best intentions in mind when she, on her own volition, writes the EPA to effect change that is aimed at making positive impacts in the lives of millions of Americans.

For far too long, asbestos has waged its plague on humanity. And given that well-known fact, over 50 countries around the world have banned asbestos outright — including most of Europe and the developed world. Here, in the U.S., though mining of the fibrous mineral has been outlawed since 2002, the country still imports asbestos from countries like Russia and Brazil at a frighteningly high rate. In fact, more than 8.2 million pounds of asbestos has been brought into the U.S. between the years 2006 and 2015 (according to study conducted by the EWG Action Fund).

As a result, the asbestos death-toll estimates are as high as 12,000- 15,000 Americans per year, many of these poor working men and women dying from mesothelioma, asbestos-triggered lung cancer, or asbestosis. Meanwhile, the corporations that are responsible for these deaths carry on with business as usual, raking in billions of dollars’ worth of profit every year, year after year. This whole dynamic is inexcusable — and the system needs to change.

It is beyond the time for a major upheaval. For far too long, shady companies that work tirelessly to keep this known deadly carcinogen in U.S. commerce have gotten away with murder — plain and simple. What Boxer, and many other democratic members of Congress, aim to do, then, is prod the EPA into taking action without delay. In doing so, we can hold corrupt corporation accountable for their actions and, more importantly, we can save millions of Americans from unnecessary injury or death.

Sokolove Law Team

Contributing Authors

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Last modified: September 29, 2020