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(c) 2019 Jon L Gelman, All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

US Lawmakers Urged EPA to Investigate Talc Products

Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici today pressed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for answers following an alarming new Reuters report revealing that some everyday consumer products, including baby powders, may contain asbestos—a highly toxic chemical.


“We write to express our deep concern about recent reporting from Reuters detailing the presence of asbestos in talcum powder products used in a variety of consumer goods, including baby powders commonly used on infants,” wrote Merkley and Bonamici.
Senator Jeff Merkley

“Research shows that asbestos exposure is responsible for more than 15,000 deaths per year, causing mesothelioma; lung, ovarian, and laryngeal cancers; and respiratory diseases such as asbestosis. Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and one for which there is no controlled use or safe level of exposure,” they continued. “Fifty-five countries have already banned asbestos. Unfortunately, the United States still permits the use of asbestos, joining such countries as China, India, and Russia, the latter of which remains by far the largest exporter of asbestos. Without a ban, the United States also imports millions of dollars’ worth of asbestos-contaminated consumer goods every year.”

Merkley and Bonamici have introduced the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act, which would expedite a ban on asbestos imports and use in the United States. Following the Reuters report, Merkley and Bonamici plan to make a renewed push for this legislation in January in the next session of Congress.

“It is shocking and reprehensible that Johnson & Johnson covered up the dangers of their asbestos-contaminated products for decades, putting Americans at risk,” said Linda Reinstein, the widow of Alan Reinstein—who died at the age of 66 from mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure—and co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. “The EPA's failure to ban asbestos now requires legislative action to protect health and our environment, as science has confirmed that there is no safe or controlled use of asbestos. It is outrageous that the EPA allows for hundreds of tons of asbestos imports and use to continue. We commend Senator Merkley and Congresswoman Bonamici for their steadfast leadership, and dedication to banning asbestos to keep Americans safe.”

In today’s letter to the EPA, Merkley and Bonamici asked the administration to respond to the following questions:
  • What policies and guidance does EPA have in place or in development to reduce the presence of talcum powder or any other asbestos mixtures in household consumer goods?
  • Asbestos is a known carcinogen. What steps is the EPA taking to educate and protect pregnant women, infants, and other vulnerable populations and to help them minimize exposure to asbestos?
  • The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, signed into law in 2016, amended and updated TSCA and explicitly addressed previous limitations on EPA authority that prevented the agency from regulating asbestos.
  • Since that law was enacted, what populations has EPA identified as disproportionately at risk either because of greater exposure to asbestos or greater susceptibility to injury from asbestos?
  • How has the identification of these populations affected EPA’s decision to regulate or not to regulate asbestos?
EPA has proposed a significant new use rule (SNUR) under TSCA to prevent the introduction of new, potentially unsafe asbestos-containing products into commerce.
When finalized, will the asbestos SNUR assure that EPA is notified of, and has the ability to restrict, all new consumer products contaminated with asbestos?
If the SNUR will not accomplish this objective, please explain why.

The full text of Merkley and Bonamici’s letter to the EPA follows below.

###
Dear Acting Administrator Wheeler and Deputy Assistant Administrator Beck:

We write to express our deep concern about recent reporting from Reuters detailing the presence of asbestos in talcum powder products used in a variety of consumer goods, including baby powders commonly used on infants. Although baby powder is subject to regulation under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, other talc products sold to consumers would be within the purview of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and thus the responsibility of EPA. Ongoing efforts to reduce the health risks of asbestos exposure would be woefully incomplete if those efforts did not address TSCA-regulated talc products contaminated with asbestos.

Research shows that asbestos exposure is responsible for more than 15,000 deaths per year, causing mesothelioma; lung, ovarian, and laryngeal cancers; and respiratory diseases such as asbestosis. Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and one for which there is no controlled use or safe level of exposure.

Fifty-five countries have already banned asbestos. Unfortunately, the United States still permits the use of asbestos, joining such countries as China, India, and Russia, the latter of which remains by far the largest exporter of asbestos. Without a ban, the United States also imports millions of dollars’ worth of asbestos-contaminated consumer goods every year. Independent testing as recently as 2018 found asbestos in children’s toys, crayons, and cosmetics.

Because of serious health concerns, as well as the disturbing details in the recent Reuters report, please respond to the following questions:


  1. What policies and guidance does EPA have in place or in development to reduce the presence of talcum powder or any other asbestos mixtures in household consumer goods?
  2. Asbestos is a known carcinogen. What steps is the EPA taking to educate and protect pregnant women, infants, and other vulnerable populations and to help them minimize exposure to asbestos?
  3. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, signed into law in 2016, amended and updated TSCA and explicitly addressed previous limitations on EPA authority that prevented the agency from regulating asbestos.
  4. Since that law was enacted, what populations has EPA identified as disproportionately at risk either because of greater exposure to asbestos or greater susceptibility to injury from asbestos?
  5. How has the identification of these populations affected EPA’s decision to regulate or not to regulate asbestos?


EPA has proposed a significant new use rule (SNUR) under TSCA to prevent the introduction of new, potentially unsafe asbestos-containing products into commerce.

When finalized, will the asbestos SNUR assure that EPA is notified of, and has the ability to restrict, all new consumer products contaminated with asbestos?
If the SNUR will not accomplish this objective, please explain why.

As public servants, it is incumbent on us to ensure the health and safety of all Americans, especially those who are most vulnerable and most likely to be harmed by the presence of undisclosed asbestos.

We look forward to receiving your responses to our concerns.

Respectfully,

….

Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman  1.973.696.7900  jon@gelmans.com  has been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.
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