Federal environmental regulators indicate they will miss a Congressionally mandated deadline to examine and take action against potentially hazardous chemicals that are used in the U.S.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler testified before the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday, informing Senators that the agency will not meet a June 22 deadline to release final evaluations for 10 potentially hazardous chemicals.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and other factors, Wheeler told the committee the agency will likely only have two of those evaluations complete.
The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, signed into law by President Obama on June 22, 2016, was the first update to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) since it was originally passed in 1976. Critics said the old law was weak, offering the EPA no power to regulate potentially harmful chemicals. The new law, however, grants the EPA expanded authority to regulate new chemicals. It also gave the agency the ability to evaluate the safety of existing chemicals.
The law set a June 22, 2020 deadline for the EPA to evaluate the first 10 high-priority chemicals, which included asbestos, 1,4-Dioxane and other chemicals of concern. Wheeler’s testimony indicated the EPA will miss that deadline.
“As a sign of our progress in ensuring the safety of chemicals, as of today, EPA is working its way through the final risk evaluations for the first 10 chemicals and we expect all ten will be finalized later this year,” Wheeler wrote in his testimony (PDF). “We also identified in December the next 20 high-priority chemicals that EPA will work on, with scoping documents expected this summer.”
Wheeler noted that his agency banned the retail sale of methylene chloride for consumer paint and coating removal in November 2019, which was the first risk management action taken under the new law.
Asbestos Regulations Anticipated
The agency recently sparked some controversy and concern with recent actions on asbestos, the chemical on its list which has garnered the highest attention and public concern.
The risks of asbestos exposure, which can cause lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, have been known for about a century, although they did not get widely publicized until 1964. Most modern, first-world countries banned asbestos use in its entirety decades ago. But not the United States.
While most uses were banned in this country, there is still about 750 metric tons of asbestos used in the U.S. every year. The EPA was given a chance to ban asbestos again in 2016, as part of a new chemical safety law meant to require safety reviews of key chemicals, but refused.
The EPA again refused to put an outright ban on asbestos in place in April 2019, as part of a significant new use rule. That decision came amid public comments by doctors, health experts and consumers who supported a ban.
Currently, asbestos is banned for use in corrugated paper, roll board, commercial paper, and specialty paper, flooring felt and new commercial uses that begin after August 25, 1989. However, even though the fibrous material is toxic even in small amounts, it is still in use in some industries. It is frequently used in automobile brake pads and clutches, vinyl tiles and roofing materials.
A draft risk evaluation by EPA environmental experts, released on March 30, warned that the risks linked to asbestos exposure are too great, and said there is no reason to keep any asbestos products on the market.