Critics, and even some federal regulators, warn that proposed asbestos regulations could expand use of the toxic substance, placing more Americans at risk of asbestos exposure, which can lead to the development of mesothelioma and other illnesses.
Public comments ended last week for a “Significant New Use Rule” for asbestos, which has been proposed by the Trump administration’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The proposed rule would allow EPA to approve new uses for asbestos, if those applications pass a risk-assessment test. However, that assessment has cut out a number of asbestos-related illnesses, which have been used to block use of the carcinogenic material in the past.
While dozens of countries have completely banned the use of asbestos due to the health risk, the U.S. has only banned asbestos for some uses, not all.
The proposed rule could allow the approval of asbestos for use in adhesives, sealants, roof and non-roof coatings, tape, paper, plastics, fuel cells, batteries, floor tiles and building materials. Anyone seeking to manufacture these products using asbestos would have to notify the EPA at least 90 days before starting manufacturing or importing those products, at which point they would undergo a significant new use review.
The EPA indicates that the rule is necessary to protect public health from new uses of asbestos that the agency may otherwise not be made aware.
“In the absence of this proposed rule, the importing or processing of asbestos for the significant new uses proposed in this rule may begin at any time, without prior notice to EPA,” the proposed rule states.
However, a number of doctors, health experts, and even some EPA personnel disagree, indicating that the rule paves the way for new asbestos uses and new ways for consumers to become exposed.
They point out that the proposed rule removes a number of hazards associated with asbestos from consideration, including legacy exposure from asbestos left over in old buildings, and non-cancer asbestos illnesses, and exposures linked to flame retardant materials; which pose a high risk to firefighters.
Those removals potentially make it easier for those new uses to pass the EPA’s risk assessment test. Adding to those concerns are comments made by President Donald Trump before he was elected, in which he said he supported the expanded use of asbestos in the U.S. He once indicated that he believed the ban on asbestos and its decline in use was due to a mob conspiracy.
Currently, asbestos is banned for use in corrugated paper, rollboard, commercial paper, specialty paper, flooring felt and new commercial uses that begin after August 25, 1989.
Asbestos exposure has been linked to a number of forms of respiratory illnesses and cancer, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.
In 2009, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that the number of asbestos deaths from mesothelioma were continuing to rise, but were expected to have peaked by now as more time passes since the substance was banned.
Lawsuits over asbestos have been one of the largest mass-torts in U.S. history, with more than 600,000 people having filed a case against more than 6,000 defendants after being diagnosed with mesothelioma or other related injuries that were allegedly caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.