EPA Plan Would Ban Last Form of Asbestos Allowed In the United States

The rule would ban the use and import of chrysotile asbestos into the United States, which continues to be used in certain products and industries

Following decades of clear and convincing evidence about the increased risk of cancer and mesothelioma from asbestos exposure, federal environmental health officials have proposed a plan that would prohibit use of the last allowable versions of the toxic mineral, chrysotile asbestos, a dangerous and well-documented carcinogen that is still frequently used in materials throughout the U.S.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the chrysotile asbestos ban on April 5, indicating that it intends to prohibit ongoing use of the only remaining form of asbestos imported to the U.S., and would also prohibit the manufacturing and use of the carcinogen to protect Americans.

The risks of asbestos exposure have been known for about a century, causing lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. However, concerns did not get widely publicized until about 1964.

Most modern, first-world countries banned asbestos use in its entirety decades ago. But not the United States.

Although most uses were prohibited in the U.S., there is still about 750 metric tons of asbestos used across the nation each year. The EPA was given a chance to ban asbestos again in 2016, under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), but refused.

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While the use of asbestos has been declining for years, raw chrysotile asbestos has still been heavily imported to the U.S. from Brazil and Russia and used for asbestos-containing diaphragms for chlor-alkali plants for water treatment.

In the first-ever risk management rule proposed under the TSCA, the EPA has moved to ban the manufacture, import, processing, distribution in commerce, and commercial use of chrysotile asbestos for the known remaining materials using the carcinogen.

The remaining products which use chrysotile asbestos are asbestos diaphragms, sheet gaskets, oilfield brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, other vehicle friction products, and other gaskets.

If the rule is finalized and approved, the EPA would require production of asbestos containing diaphragms and sheet gaskets for commercial use to stop within two years, and asbestos use in oilfield brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linins and other vehicle friction products would stop within 180 days of the passage of the final rule.

“Today, we’re taking an important step forward to protect public health and finally put an end to the use of dangerous asbestos in the United States,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan stated in the release.

Currently, asbestos is banned for use in corrugated paper, roll board, commercial paper, and specialty paper, flooring, felt and new commercial uses that begin after August 25, 1989. However, even though the fibrous material is toxic even in small amounts, it is still in use in some industries.

The rule was proposed following a final risk evaluation issued by the EPA in December 2020, which found unreasonable risks to human health from conditions of use associated with six categories of products that included asbestos use in the chlor-alkali industry, sheet gaskets and other types of gaskets and automotive brakes.

The EPA’s determination of asbestos risks follows decades-long mesothelioma litigation, which is often referred to as the longest running mass tort in the history of the United States.

Asbestos lawsuits have been filed by more than 600,000 people against approximately 6,000 defendants, all raising similar allegations that manufacturers and sellers of products containing asbestos knew about the risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos injuries, yet failed to provide adequate warnings.

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