EPA Finalizes Ban on Ongoing Use of Asbestos

March 18, 2024 by Dan McCue
EPA Finalizes Ban on Ongoing Use of Asbestos
Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan speaks, Feb. 16, 2024, in East Palestine, Ohio. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday finalized a rule to prohibit the ongoing use of chrysotile asbestos, the only known form of asbestos currently used in or imported into the United States.

The ban is the first to be finalized under the Toxic Substances Control Act and, the agency said, “marks a major milestone for chemical safety after three decades of inadequate protections.”

Exposure to asbestos is known to cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, ovarian cancer, and laryngeal cancer and it is linked to more than 40,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. 

“The science is clear — asbestos is a known carcinogen that has severe impacts on public health,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan in a written statement,

“Under President Biden’s leadership, EPA has been working expeditiously to put the nation’s chemical safety program back on track and finally realize the protections of the 2016 law,” Regan continued. “This action is just the beginning as we work to protect all American families, workers, and communities from toxic chemicals.”

Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, described the ban announced Monday as a “decisive action” intended to advance the Biden-Harris administration’s environmental justice agenda.

“This action marks a major step to improve chemical safety after decades of inadequate protections, helping advance President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot goal to end cancer as we know it,” Mallory said.

Chrysotile asbestos is found in products including asbestos diaphragms, sheet gaskets, brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes/linings, other vehicle friction products and other gaskets. The use of asbestos in the United States has been declining for decades, and its use is already banned in over 50 countries.

Although there are several known types of asbestos, the only form known to be imported, processed, or distributed for use in the United States is chrysotile. 

Raw chrysotile asbestos was imported into the United States as recently as 2022 for use by the chlor-alkali industry. Most consumer products that historically contained chrysotile asbestos have been discontinued.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also lent his voice to those applauding the EPA ban, the first rule to regulate an existing chemical under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which the congressman co-authored.

“Thirty-five years ago, EPA finalized a rule banning asbestos, but it was overturned in court following an industry challenge,” Pallone said in a written statement. 

“The original Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, simply did not give EPA the tools it needed to address the risk — even though we were aware of the dangers of asbestos for decades,” he continued. 

“That is why the Energy and Commerce Committee worked in strong bipartisan fashion to pass much-needed TSCA reform, and in 2016, the landmark Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was signed into law,” he said. “This historic law updated and modernized TSCA for the first time in 40 years, finally giving EPA the tools it needs to address the threats of toxic chemicals like asbestos.

Pronouncing himself thrilled that asbestos is “finally” set to be banned in the United States, Pallone pointed out asbestos is still being used in auto parts, construction materials and chemical manufacturing throughout the country.

“Today the Biden administration is firmly saying — enough is enough,” the congressman said. “This toxic chemical, which still kills more than 40,000 Americans every year, has no business being used or imported into our country. For decades we have known how deadly asbestos is, and there is no excuse for allowing our communities and workers to be exposed to it any longer. 

“I applaud EPA for using the tools Congress gave it to take this step toward banning this toxic substance once and for all, and I look forward to working closely with the agency to protect every American from asbestos exposure,” Pallone said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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