On June 22, 2016, President Obama signed a new chemical safety law that will amend America’s primary chemicals law. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act will forever change the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) and the evaluation of chemicals as we know it.
This new act mandates the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) be responsible for evaluating existing chemicals with a new risk-based safety standard. The act will also set up better public “transparency” for chemical information and provides steady funding for the EPA to carry out its new requirements.
Until June, the TSCA had never been amended since 1976, when it was first adopted. The nation’s chemical safety system was considered “broken,” and many have lost faith in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to be able to keep up with industry safety. Bloomberg BNA described OSHA as being “underfunded” and outdated, “unable to update chemical exposure limits for the workplace.”
Anna Fendley, with the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union was supportive of EPA’s involvement, saying the agency could provide valuable additional expertise that would assist OSHA’s actions and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) research.
“This is a whole new world,” Fendley said. “We’re looking forward to EPA working on chemicals.”
But she pointed out that the Union doesn’t want EPA to supplant NIOSH and OSHA.
“We don’t want EPA to replace OSHA in regulating chemicals in the workplace,” Fendley said. “That’s not EPA’s role; that’s not its expertise. The hope is that EPA will work closely with NIOSH and OSHA in assessing and controlling chemicals.”
Among the chemicals that will now fall under EPA scrutiny is benzene, which has been blamed for causing serious, life-threatening cancers. Benzene is widely used in a number of industries and products, and workers are exposed to it in surprising places.
Benzene exposure can happen easily, most commonly through inhalation, but the chemical can also be absorbed into the skin. Some of the workers at risk would be automobile mechanics, printers, floor layers, petrol industry workers, carpet cleaners, rail workers and lab technicians. Exposure to products containing benzene can cause life-threatening diseases including Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), lymphomas and aplastic Anemia.