Why Are Dangerous Chemicals – Like Asbestos – Still Allowed in the U.S.?

The first known death due to asbestos was in 1906. In the 1970s, court documents proved that asbestos industry officials knew of its dangers since the 1930s and had concealed them from the public. It wasn’t until 2002 that asbestos mining ended in the U.S. with the closing of the last U.S. asbestos mine.

And yet, asbestos is still not banned in this country, exposing millions of people to the long-term effects of this dangerous chemical. In fact, from 1999-2017, there were 5,157 asbestos-related deaths in Arizona. 

So why are these chemicals still allowed and used in the United States? A new investigation from ProPublica exposes an ineffective, underfunded regulatory system, and more than happy to bow to industry pressure. Here’s how we’re losing the fight against toxic chemicals:

The Toxic Substances Law Benefits the Producers

Industry advocates rejoiced in 1976 when the Toxic Substances Control Act was enacted, giving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the power to ban or restrict toxic chemicals. The only problem? Industry leaders were closely involved in drafting the law with minimal oversight. The result was over 60,000 potentially dangerous chemicals remained on the market. The language of the law also required the EPA to always choose regulations that were the “least burdensome” to companies, which was not changed until 2016.

The EPA is Met With Massive Resistance

The United States follows a “risk-based” approach to regulation, which puts the burden on government officials to prove that a chemical poses unreasonable health risks rather than requiring manufacturers to prove that its products are safe. After the EPA struggled to regulate asbestos effectively, it did not try to ban other toxic chemicals for decades, feeling that it could only follow the “least burdensome” statute of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. The EPA is also chronically underfunded and faces resistance from industry lobbyists and sympathetic lawmakers on every proposed evaluation.

The EPA Employs Industry Insiders Who Influence Regulations

The EPA often hires scientists and top officials from the companies it regulates, which allows the industry to influence the agency’s science and regulatory powers. According to an investigation by the Chicago Tribune, one glaring example is the case of a toxicologist and lawyer hired by the EPA three separate times to help assess the risks of certain chemicals. Before joining the EPA, he worked for the companies that produced some of the hazardous chemicals in question. At one point he argued that people could be safely exposed to a flame retardant at doses more than 500 times higher than the EPA standard. 

Disposing of Toxic Chemicals Properly Starts With You

While you may not be able to influence an entire industry to take the proper action, there are things you can do to keep yourself and others safe. Do your part to reduce the risk of toxic substances in the ground or in drinking water, and dispose of household chemicals properly by following these tips:

  • Follow the instructions on product labels to safely handle hazardous wastes and prevent any accidents. 
  • Read the product labels first so you know whether there’s a risk of a chemical exploding, igniting, leaking, mixing with another substance, or posing other hazards. 
  • Keep the hazardous products in their original containers and never remove the labels. If you have a container that is corroding, call your local hazardous materials official or fire department for special handling instructions.
  • If you have leftovers, never mix any chemicals with other substances. Incompatible products might cause a dangerous reaction, like igniting or exploding. 
  • Check with your local environmental, health or solid waste agency to see if there’s a collection system or designated days for collecting household hazardous waste. 
  • Don’t keep empty containers with hazardous waste lying around as they can still pose hazards with residual chemicals left inside; handle with care. 

If long-term exposure to asbestos–or a related substance–has resulted in illness or injury and you wish to discuss the specifics of your case in a free consultation with an experienced Tucson personal injury lawyer, please contact us today.