EPA Finalizes Asbestos Ban, Enhancing Public Health Protection

Abandoned building with asbestos contained warning sign

by | Mar 18, 2024

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a landmark ruling to prohibit the continued use of chrysotile asbestos, marking one more step forward in the nation’s chemical safety and public health protection. This rule represents the first regulatory action finalized under the enhanced provisions of the 2016 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) amendments, which garnered overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress.

Addressing Public Health Concerns

The fight against chrysotile asbestos, the sole form of asbestos still imported or utilized within the United States, is linked to several types of cancers, including lung, mesothelioma, ovarian, and laryngeal cancers, contributing to over 40,000 U.S. deaths annually. The EPA’s decisive action underscores the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to the Cancer Moonshot initiative, aiming to reduce cancer rates and transform cancer care significantly.

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan emphasized the clear scientific consensus on the dangers of asbestos and heralded the rule as a critical step towards safeguarding American families, workers, and communities from toxic chemical exposures. The White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair, Brenda Mallory, further highlighted the rule’s significance in advancing the Administration’s environmental justice goals and bolstering chemical safety standards that have been lacking for decades.

Legislative and Community Support for Asbestos Ban

The rule has garnered support from various quarters, including Congress, where advocates like Senator Jeff Merkley and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici have long championed the cause against asbestos use. “Today’s rule is a positive first step to give all Americans a future free of exposure to asbestos – a carcinogen that has killed far too many. This dangerous substance has been banned in more than 50 countries around the world, and the United States is finally starting to catch up. An immediate ban on the import of chrysotile asbestos for the chlor-alkali industry is a long overdue step forward for public health. However, it cannot be the end of the road when it comes to phasing out other dangerous asbestos fibers, and Congress has a role to play here when it comes to providing stronger protections for our health,” said Senator Jeff Merkley.

Implementation and Transition Periods

The EPA’s ruling introduces compliance deadlines for transitioning away from chrysotile asbestos use across various sectors, including the chlor-alkali industry, which has historically utilized asbestos in the production of chlorine and sodium hydroxide. The agency has outlined a phased approach, allowing time for the adoption of alternative methods and technologies to ensure a smooth transition without compromising essential services like drinking water purification.

Further Actions and Ongoing Evaluations

In addition to the immediate ban, the EPA’s final rule includes provisions for banning other asbestos-containing products within specified timelines and implementing strict workplace safety measures to protect workers during the transition period. The agency is also committed to evaluating different types of asbestos fibers. It will publish the findings of these assessments in due course.

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