Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – A proposed controversial ban on asbestos is now the focus of comments to the Environmental Protection Agency. Released during National Asbestos Awareness Week, the rule is aimed at ending the use of the substance that’s been long associated with lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the membranes in the abdomen and chest.
While some say the proposal is a step in the right direction, opponents are lining up on both sides of the issue. On one side are those who say the rule would have ‘significant adverse effects’ on the nation’s drinking water supply; on the other are health advocates who say the proposal does not go far enough.
Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals. Their ability to resist heat, fire and electricity made it a popular option for products such as insulation, drywall, pipe coatings, roofing shingles and vehicle brakes. It was first used in construction during the 1930s and became prevalent as an insulator in schools, hospitals, homes and offices, in addition to consumer products.
In 1973 the EPA banned spray-applied material for fireproofing or insulating purposes that contained asbestos. Two years later it prohibited additional uses of asbestos and tried to implement a near total ban in 1989 under then President George H.W. Bush. However, that was overturned by a U.S, Appeals Court. Currently, only new uses of asbestos initiated after 1989 are prohibited. But the ruling did tamp down the use of asbestos in the U.S.
Brazil had been the source of most of the Asbestos used in the U.S. until that country banned its manufacture and sale in 2017. The main supplier now is Russia.
An official with the EPA said the newly released proposal rule was not related to the sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Asbestos has been banned in more than 50 countries and, in fact, its use in the U.S. has been on the decline for several decades. The one type of asbestos that is known to be imported, processed or distributed for use here in chrysotile, which is used exclusively in the chlor-alkali industry.
Chrysotile asbestos is found in products such as aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, brake blocks, sheet gaskets and other vehicle friction products.
The EPA’s proposal would ban the manufacture – including import, processing, distribution in commerce and commercial use of chrysotile asbestos for six categories of chrysotile asbestos-containing products, including:
- Asbestos diaphragms
- Sheet gaskets
- Oilfield brake blocks
- Aftermarket automotive brakes and linings
- Other vehicle friction products
- Other gaskets.
The EPA is also proposing targeted disposal and recordkeeping requirements in line with industry standards. Separately, the agency is evaluating legacy uses and associated disposals, other types of asbestos fibers in addition to chrysotile, and conditions of use of asbestos in talc and talc-containing products in a supplemental risk evaluation for asbestos. The EPA is set to publish the final risk evaluation by December 1, 2024.
“For decades workers and bystanders have been exposed to asbestos fiber and have tragically suffered asbestos-related diseases and death flowing from exposure to asbestos fiber,” wrote workers’ compensation attorney Jon Gelman in a recent blogpost. The workers’ compensation system?has been plagued by an epidemic of industrial illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, flowing from exposure to asbestos fiber in the workplace.”
Gelman noted that asbestos is linked to an estimated 40,000 deaths per year in the U.S. and called the EPA’s proposal “a historic step.”
But some opponents say the proposal will have “unintended consequences on safe drinking water and our already precarious supply chain of consumer products.” In a press release, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute also said asbestos is used in the production of chlorine, which he said was “critical to treating drinking water” as well as the manufacture of pharmaceutical, bleach and medical goods. “The use of asbestos in the chlor-alkali process is tightly regulated and used safely every day,” he was quoted as saying.
The American Chemistry Council, which represents the chlorine industry said the rule would have “significant adverse effects on the supply of the nation’s drinking water.” The group also said EPA’s risk evaluation “overestimated potential asbestos exposures, leading to is unjustified risk management proposal.”
The EPA has estimated that less than 7 percent of the chlorine in the public drinking water supply comes from facilities using asbestos technology.
Some health advocates pushing for a prohibition on all forms of asbestos said the EPA’s decision was insufficient.
The EPA is accepting public comments on the proposed rule for 60 days, following publication in the Federal Register.