Environmental Protection Agency To Propose Restrictions On Asbestos

The Biden administration said it intends to ban one form of asbestos, the first time the federal government has moved to significantly restrict toxic industrial materials since 1989.

Under Tuesday’s proposed regulation, the Environmental Protection Agency would ban the use, manufacture, and import of chrysotile asbestos, a type of asbestos that has been linked to lung cancer and mesothelioma. Chrysotile is the only raw form of asbestos known to be imported, processed, and distributed for use in the United States. Commonly known as “white asbestos,” it is used in roofing materials, textiles, and cement as well as gaskets, clutches, brake pads, and other auto parts.

It is still legal to import other types of asbestos but companies are required to notify the EPA before importing any product known to contain asbestos fibers, and the agency has the authority to refuse such imports.

Health advocates who fought for decades to ban all forms of asbestos have described the EPA’s decision as inadequate. They noted that asbestos is associated with 40,000 deaths annually in the United States. More than 60 countries and regions have banned asbestos.

The proposed rule stands in sharp contrast to the Trump administration, which has fought legislation banning asbestos and enforced a policy that EPA scientists said left loopholes for industries to continue using it. Former President Donald J. Trump inaccurately declared that asbestos was “100 percent safe” in his 1997 book, The Art of Returning, and claimed that the asbestos removal movement was mob-led, because it was often mob-related businesses that would do asbestos removal.

Michael S. said: Reagan, director of the Environmental Protection Agency, said Tuesday that the proposed rule would “definitively end” the dangerous use of asbestos.

“This proposed historic ban will protect the American people from exposure to chrysotile asbestos, a known carcinogen,” Reagan said in a statement, adding that the agency would take other “bold, long overdue” actions to protect Americans from the toxic chemicals. .

Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals that have the ability to resist heat, fire, and electricity. It was first used in construction in the 1930s and has become ubiquitous as an insulating agent in schools, hospitals, homes and offices as well as consumer products.

In the 1960s and 1970s, researchers began linking it to health problems. Inhaling asbestos fibers, even in small amounts, can cause irreversible scarring of the lungs as well as a cancer called malignant mesothelioma.

The Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush attempted to ban the use of asbestos in 1989, but that effort was overturned by federal courts in 1991. However, the ruling retained the ban on new uses of asbestos. Because of that—and potential legal liability—asbestos use has declined in the United States.

Asbestos ceased production in the United States in 2002, but it is still imported to produce chemicals used in the manufacture of items such as household bleach, bulletproof vests, electrical insulation, as well as automotive products.

Brazil was once the source of about 95 percent of all asbestos used in America, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, but in 2017 it banned its manufacture and sale. Since then, Russia has stepped in as a supplier. During the Trump administration, the Russian company Uralasbest, one of the largest producers and sellers of asbestos, posted a photo of its packaging on Facebook that featured President Trump’s face along with the words: “Approved by Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States.”

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

An Environmental Protection Agency official said the sanctions the Biden administration has imposed on Russia since it invaded Ukraine in February played no role in the EPA’s decision to ban asbestos imports.

In recent months, companies that use imported asbestos, including Occidental Chemical and Olin, as well as trade groups such as the Chlorine Institute and the American Chemistry Council, have met with the White House to discuss potential EPA actions.

Neither company responded to a request for comment. Frank Rayner, president of the Chlorine Institute, which represents chlorine producers and distributors, said his member companies need to review the proposed rule before suspending.

He said the industry considers the use of chrysotile asbestos to be safe. “In chlorine production, measures have been in place for many years,” said Mr. Rayner. “We believe we have used it safely and are taking appropriate measures.”

The US Chamber of Commerce said in a statement that banning chrysotile asbestos would have “unintended consequences” because it is used to produce chlorine that is used to treat drinking water. Marty Durbin, president of the Chamber’s Energy Institute, said the EPA should take a “more pragmatic approach to asbestos regulation.”

About 300 metric tons of chrysotile asbestos were imported into the United States in 2020, according to the United States Geological Survey’s Mineral Commodity Summaries Report. The Environmental Protection Agency said it is used almost exclusively in making chlorine-based products.

An evaluation conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2020 found “unreasonable risks to human health” associated with asbestos membranes, plate gaskets, brake blocks and other products.

Restrictions on asbestos membranes and sheet gaskets for commercial use take effect two years after the effective date of the final rule. Prohibitions related to oil field brake blocks, aftermarket auto brakes and linings, other vehicle friction products, and other gaskets for commercial use are effective 180 days after the rule goes into effect.

Linda Reinstein, president and founder of Asbestos Disease Awareness, said the other five forms of asbestos are just as dangerous and should be banned. She noted that one of the biggest threats is the legacy of asbestos, caused by decades of unbridled use of the product in construction, building insulation, and the manufacture of many products.

“Without banning all types of fibers, asbestos can still be imported into consumer products, toys and building materials,” she said.

Dr. Raja M. said: Flores, MD, chief of thoracic surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai in New York, says he sees about 60 patients a year who have mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease. “If you look closely, you will find the link,” Dr. Flores said. “The school they’d attended for 10 years already had asbestos, or they were working on brake pads outside their homes.”

He also called for a complete ban on asbestos, but called the EPA’s proposed rule “a step in the right direction.” “Since I’ve been on this battlefield for decades, I’m glad they finally banned something,” Dr. Flores said.

The agency intends to conduct analyzes for other types of asbestos, said Michael Friedhoff, associate director of chemical safety and pollution prevention at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Earlier this week, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution recognizing annual National Asbestos Awareness Week. The Surgeon General’s office urges better warning and education of people about public health issues related to exposure to asbestos. Legislation to ban asbestos entirely — named after Ms. Reinstein’s husband, who died more than a decade ago of mesothelioma from asbestos exposure — never came to the House or Senate for a vote.

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