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TSCA Implementation- will our health be protected?

Posted by Kathy Attar, MPH on October 6, 2016

Last summer the U.S. updated the federal law (Toxic Substances Control Act-TSCA) that regulates chemicals in manufactured products. EPA's first major decision under the reformed TSCA is the choice of which chemicals to review first. Of the approximate 85,000 known chemicals (many are no longer in use), EPA says that about 1,000 chemicals are in need of re-evaluation. The agency has placed 90 chemicals known to pose health risks on a list called the TSCA Work Plan.

The agency must choose at least ten chemicals from the existing Work Plan within 180 days of enactment. Once the chemicals are designated, EPA has to complete evaluations and any needed regulations (bans/restrictions/labeling) within five years. The decisions that the EPA makes on these initial hazardous chemicals in the next five years will determine whether the reformed TSCA will protect public health.

PSR and numerous other public health and environmental groups have written asking EPA to prioritize chemicals relative to the urgency of the threat the chemical poses to public health or the environment and the availability of hazard and exposure information.

Prioritized chemicals include known bad actors like asbestos (carcinogen) and lead (neurotoxin). Most people believe these have been banned from our shelves -- unfortunately they haven't. Asbestos can be found in automobile brake pads and clutches, vinyl tiles, and roofing materials. Lead can be used to make lead acid batteries, commercial paint pigments and aviation fuel.

A lesser-known but more widely used toxic chemical is tetrachloroethylene (PERC) which is included in the public health group's priority list. A probable carcinogen, PERC is a solvent used as a dry cleaning fluid and in household products such as water repellents, spot removers and adhesives. In the U.S. in 2011, 420 million pounds of it was produced. People who live near dry cleaning, use laundromats where dry cleaning machines are present, or live in buildings where dry cleaning shops are located are exposed to high amounts of PERC in the air. The highest exposures tend to occur in the workplace, especially among dry cleaning and metal degreasing workers.

Industry has already begun pushing back, submitting comments defending chemicals like asbestos and rebutting arguments that EPA should review and regulate these bad actors first. What we know is that the longer lead, asbestos and PERC remain on the market, the longer our health is compromised. Keeping the spotlight on these harmful chemicals and how they are used in everyday products and work environments will help to strengthen regulatory action and market transformation.

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