US industries queue up to defend their toxins

A new US chemical safety law has triggered an immediate response from chemical producers – a helter-skelter rush to ensure their favourites are the back of the queue for official scrutiny.

The Frank R Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act for the 21st Century, passed into law in June this year, gave the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority needed to evaluate and regulate the tens of thousands of commercial chemicals it oversees in the US.

The law was hailed as a more transparent ‘new risk-based safety standard’, replacing the Toxic Substances Control Act’s (TSCA) cost-benefit analysis that required EPA to include commercial considerations when deciding on chemical restrictions.

“But many industry group comments suggest we’ve not heard the last of the old argument,” writes chemical safety journalist Elizabeth Grossman. She says on the ‘keep off’ list are top causes of occupational cancer, including asbestos, benzidine dyes and vinyl chloride monomer.

While industry groups are actively defending the toxic substances they produce or use, other stakeholders are calling on EPA to make these high risk substances a priority. Senator Barbara Boxer, the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee’s ranking Democrat, has written to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy asking that asbestos be among the first 10 chemicals the Lautenberg Act considers.

“The EPA’s proposed choices are due by mid-December,” writes Grossman. “They will reveal whether the Lautenberg Act will move to restrict hazardous chemicals of great concern to workers and work sites.”

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