Bills Take Aim at Reforming Asbestos Laws

Written by Nancy Werner

Two bills recently introduced to the Senate seek significant changes to U.S. asbestos law. The first bill, the “Reducing Exposure to Asbestos Database Act of 2015” (READ Act), would create a public database of asbestos-containing products in the United States. The second bill, named the “Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act,” would reform the Toxic Substances Control Act and explicitly calls for a ban on asbestos and asbestos-containing products. 

Contrary to popular belief (not to mention common sense and public health), asbestos—a carcinogenic mineral fiber that causes approximately 10,000 deaths in the U.S. each year—is still legal in the United States. Reforms in the 1970s placed bans on certain types of asbestos products, including insulation, patching compounds, and artificial fireplace embers, but an outright ban on asbestos has never been enacted.

In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that would have outlawed most asbestos-containing products, but the asbestos industry fought back and succeeded in having the rule overturned. As a result, asbestos products continue to be used in the United States.

The Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act, introduced by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA), seeks to reform the TSCA in such a way that an EPA ban on asbestos would not be prevented through an asbestos industry-friendly legal interpretation as it was in 1989. The Boxer-Markey bills would also require the EPA to act quickly to consider an asbestos ban.

Although asbestos is not banned in the U.S., it hasn’t been mined here since 2002. Asbestos imports, however, to the tune of 8.2 million pounds of raw asbestos imported since 2006, in addition to shipments of asbestos-containing products, ensure that industries continue to get their hands on the deadly substance. The chlor-alkali chemical industry is the leading user of asbestos. It can also be found in construction products and automotive breaks—some of which can be purchased on Amazon

Incomplete asbestos imports and product information records, however, mean that Americans are woefully uninformed about which products contain asbestos. The READ Act, introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), hopes to amend that by establishing a public database of asbestos-containing products and requiring public disclosure of asbestos products that are made, processed, distributed, and used in the U.S. The READ Act would provide greater transparency of asbestos products than is currently provided by the Asbestos Information Act of 1988, which, according to a press release from Durbin’s office, was established before the Internet became mainstream and is difficult for most Americans to access.

The ability of asbestos to cause cancer—including mesothelioma and lung cancer—has been understood by the asbestos industry for nearly a century. But the same companies that profit from asbestos have fought against a ban on it, resulting in an epidemic that was entirely possible. Over the next three decades, an estimated 300,000 Americans will die from asbestos-related diseases.

The protections offered by the READ ACT and the Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act, while long overdue, are a step in the right direction down the path towards an asbestos-free future. 

Bio:  Nancy Werner has been a freelance writer since the early 1980s. She writes primarily about health, health related issues and nutrition although she is capable of providing quality and insightful writing for almost any niche. She is an avid reader, tea drinker, and likes to write semi-fictionalized short stories about growing up on a farm in the mid-west. Nancy has written and ghost written countless articles and blogs for insurance companies, news sites, law firms, and many other industries.

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