EPA Takes Action on Chemicals, Asbestos

14.06.2018 -

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has now released for public comment the first 10 problem formulation documents under the newly revised Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA legislation) formally known as the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.

Simultaneously, the agency presented its systemic review approach document and a “significant new use rule” (SNUR) proposal enabling it to prevent new uses of asbestos. This would be the first US legislation restricting the cancer-causing fiber; however, it is widely seen as falling short of expectations raised when the EPA was tasked with evaluating hundreds of hazardous chemicals to decide if they should face more restrictions or be banned entirely.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt praised the agency’s actions, saying they “provide the American people with transparency and an opportunity to comment on how EPA plans to evaluate the ten chemicals undergoing risk evaluation, select studies and use the best available science to ensure chemicals in the marketplace are safe.”

The problem formulation documents refine the scope of risk evaluations for the first 10 chemicals that were selected under the revised TSCA in November 2016 and are an interim step prior to completing and publishing the final evaluations by December 2019.

The 10 chemicals include asbestos; 1-bromopropane; carbon tetrachloride; 1,4-dioxane; cyclic aliphatic bromide cluster methylene chloride; n-methylpyrrolidone; pigment violet 29; trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) called the release of the documents “another important milestone” in implementing the 2016 TSCA amendments, adding that it is essential the risk evaluations are grounded in the best available science and focused on the conditions of use presenting the greatest potential risks.

For asbestos, EPA is proposing a Snur for certain uses (including asbestos-containing goods) that would require companies to receive approval from the agency before they could manufacture, import or process the fibrous mineral. By implementing this review process, EPA said it could evaluate an intended use and take action to prohibit or limit use when necessary.

NGOs have voiced their dismay over EPA’s failure to include legacy asbestos use.  Liz Hitchcock, acting director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, said: “With an estimated 15,000 Americans dying each year from diseases associated with asbestos exposure, it’s past time for the EPA to finish the job of protecting human health from this notoriously deadly fiber. If the fatal flaw of ‘old TSCA’ was that the EPA could not use it to ban asbestos, the fatal flaw of the Pruitt EPA is that they will not use reformed TSCA to protect us from asbestos.”

Linda Reinstein, president and co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), added that the end-result would be a seriously inadequate risk evaluation that failed to address major contributors to the heavy and growing toll of asbestos mortality and disease in the US. “From the World Health Organization to the Office of the US Surgeon General, there is global consensus that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure or controlled use of asbestos,” Reinstein said.

Others complained that industries currently using asbestos – including the country’s biggest, manufacturers of chloralkali chemicals – have been let off the hook. Reports said much of the US industry still uses asbestos diaphragms to produce chlorine, while some have switched to the more expensive ion-exchange membranes now standard in Europe.

According to the journal EcoWatch, the EPA decision to narrow the scope of its risk assessments was made at the urging of the ACC. A manager of the EPA's toxic chemical unit appointed last year by Pruitt previously worked for the industry association.

Comments on the problem formulations and systematic review approach will be accepted up to 45 days from their publication in the Federal Register. The asbestos Snur is subject to a 60-day consultation, which started Jun. 1.