EPA Asbestos Risk Assessment Finds Firefighters, Construction Workers Face Highest Risks

The draft findings come shortly after a ban was announced last month on the last forms of asbestos that were still legally allowed to be used in the United States.

Asbestos poses an unreasonable and serious risk to human health, especially affecting firefighters, construction workers, and consumers who use certain industrial products to do home renovations, according to a new federal evaluation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the “Draft Risk Evaluation for Asbestos Part 2: Supplemental Evaluation” on April 15, which is the second portion of the agency’s long-promised study to determine the risk many chemicals pose to the American population.

The EPA evaluation determined asbestos is unsafe and a risk to human health, with certain professions and uses leading to more health risks than others.

It has been known for about a century that asbestos exposure cause a number of serious health conditions, including lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, although information about the risk was not widely publicized until about 1964. Most modern, first-world countries banned asbestos use in its entirety decades ago. However, the United States continued to allow some limited forms of asbestos to be used until this year.

Mesothelioma lawsuits are part of the largest mass-tort in U.S. history, with more than 600,000 people having filed a case against more than 6,000 defendants due to injuries caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. In addition to individuals directly exposed to asbestos, a growing number of the lawsuits filed in recent years have involved second-hand exposure among individuals who inhaled fibers carried on on the clothes or in the hair of their parents when they were children.

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Exposure to asbestos can cause the development of mesothelioma. Lawsuits have been filed nationwide against asbestos manufacturers.

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In 2016, the EPA designated asbestos as one of 10 chemicals to undergo risk evaluation under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). In November 2019, the EPA announced the evaluation would be done in two parts. Part one was completed in December 2020.

The EPA initially focused on chrysotile asbestos, the only asbestos fiber type that was still imported, processed, or distributed in the United States. Part two focused on evaluating legacy uses and disposals of asbestos, including chrysotile asbestos, five additional fiber types, asbestos-containing talc, and Libby asbestos.

“The EPA preliminarily concludes that asbestos, as a chemical substance and as evaluated in part 1 and part 2 of the risk evaluation, presents an unreasonable risk of injury to health under its conditions of use,” EPA investigators wrote in the draft risk evaluation.

The agency determined workers in some industries face an unreasonable risk of exposure to asbestos, including firefighters, construction workers, and manufacturing workers. However, owners of old homes who do their own renovations also face a risk of high exposure since asbestos was often used in flooring adhesives and to manufacture a range of home products.

EPA Asbestos Ban

Last month, the Biden Administration announced a rule banning the use of chrysotile asbestos in the U.S., decades after most other countries entirely prevented all uses of the toxic fiber. However, the new band still allows for some uses to continue up until 2037.

The EPA will complete the final risk evaluation by December 1, 2024. The agency is seeking public comment on the draft evaluation and plans to host a webinar on May 13, 2024, to provide an overview of the evaluation.

Attendees must register with the EPA to attend the webinar and receive the meeting link.

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