The Environmental Protection Agency can attempt to phase out chemicals which are “unsafe” under the Toxic Substances Control Act (abbreviated TSCA and pronounced “ToSCA”). TSCA is a complete failure of a statute and hardly regulates anything. Unlike its counterpart in the European Union, TSCA does not require every chemical manufacturer to report on its chemicals before being granted market access. Rather, TSCA blacklists a handful of chemicals and companies have to report anything that is chemically similar. If a company makes something that is tremendously dangerous but not chemically similar to something already on a TSCA blacklist, TSCA does not apply.
TSCA may be supplemented soon with Senator Lautenberg’s Safe Chemicals Act. Doing so would no doubt be a great victory for environmentalists as it would replace TSCA with something which might actually work. The Safe Chemicals Act is taking aim at a number of problems that TSCA has been unable to address, foremost above them, asbesdos. The question, however, of what is and is not reasonably “safe” remains.
Historically asbestos was considered to be useful material in its day. Its strength makes it a great cement additive; what’s more, its resistance to heat makes it excellent for brake pads, building insulation, and flame retardant.
Unfortunately, asbestos is obviously very hazardous. As scientists and doctors have come to profess, asbestos causes the dangerous illness mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that anyone who watches television knows about. What’s more, mesothelioma has led to enough pain and suffering that awareness is essential.
The scary thing about mesothelioma, and asbestos, is that it is amounts to a death sentence. Forty percent of people who contract this ailment die within a year. Ninety percent of people who contract this sickness within four years. Besides its high fatality rate, the popular fear of asbestos gains strength from the chemical’s insidiousness. Up to fifty years could pass between coming in contact with asbestos and developing mesothelioma.
Despite the ubiquity of mesothelioma class action lawsuit ads, the actual disease is fairly rare and the average American has a very low risk of contracting it. In most industrialized Western nations – that is, places where asbestos was, or is, manufactured and used – between seven and forty people per million contract mesothelioma each year. Mesothelioma is practically nonexistent in countries without asbestos.
To really assess the danger of asbestos, one has to distinguish risk from hazard. “Risk” is the chance that something will go wrong. “Hazard” is a measure of the severity what happens if something does go wrong. The hazard for asbestos is very high. The hazard is mesothelioma and death within a few years. The risk is very low. Between seven and forty in one million is almost as low as the proverbial “one in a million.”
Tobacco, by comparison, is far more risky than asbestos. Male smokers have about a seventeen percent lifetime risk of developing lung cancer. For women, the risk is about twelve percent. Tobacco is roughly as hazardous as asbestos. Lung cancer’s overall five year survival rate is about fourteen percent.
It is difficult to think of a hard and fast rule for distinguishing between safe and unsafe chemicals, but that is precisely what the EPA will likely be doing after the passage of the Safe Chemicals Act. American manufacturing could be on the brink of a very big change. It could be a victory for the environmental movement, but a victory with very unknown consequences and a huge development in law.
If you are facing an issue that that is similar to the one discussed, an attorney can help you with the legal issues surrounding it. Contact our offices today for a free legal consultation on your rights.