Despite killing over 90,000 people worldwide each and every year, asbestos is still mined in developed countries (such as Canada, the United States, and Russia) and shipped to other countries (including India and China) for use as a building material without employing strict asbestos handling safeguards.
There are many different uses for asbestos that are still permitted by law, such as gaskets, roofing felt, floor tile, asbestos cement shingles, clothing and pipe wrap.
The Toxic Substances Control Act was enacted in the United States in the mid 1970s, but it provides the Environmental Protection Agency with an obstacle when it comes to banning asbestos. Even if a chemical or material is obviously dangerous, the EPA can’t do a thing about it if the TSCA deems it “safe”. Asbestos is “safe” in the United States, only because of all of the handling procedures and safety equipment required by law when asbestos is used. It goes without saying that the same measures that make asbestos “safe” are not in place all over the world, and even in Canada and the United States, workers and their family members are dying because of the transfer of asbestos dust from the workplace to the home.
Earlier this year, the Senator of New Jersey introduced a completely new act that if passed, will essentially overhaul the TSCA. The new act is called the Safe Chemicals Act and will empower the EPA with regards to determining just how dangerous a chemical or material really is. If it’s suspected or known to cause harm, or if as in the case of asbestos is proven to be dangerous, they will have the ability to “fast track” changes to ban them. As of the beginning of September, the new act has been read twice and is before the Environment and Public Works Committee. If this Act creates asbestos progress in the United States, it may be safe to assume that Canada will soon follow suit. However, the passing of Acts like this take time, and the number of products asbestos can be found in makes it that much more important to have it removed safely in the meantime.
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