The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to ban the most prevalent variety of asbestos in what would be the first asbestos risk management rule issued since the Toxic Substances Control Act was amended under the Obama administration.
The EPA announced it is moving forward with prohibiting the importation and use of chrysotile asbestos, the only known form of asbestos that’s currently imported, processed, or distributed for use in the United States.The EPA said the proposed rule is the first risk management rule issued under a new process established through the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, a law enacted in 2016 that updated the Toxic Substances Control Act and called for several big changes in how the agency handles issues related to chemical safety.
But the move has already drawn criticism from industry advocates due to its implications for chlor-alkali producers, which import raw chrysotile asbestos to develop drinking water treatment systems.
The EPA acknowledged that asbestos diaphragms are used to produce chlor-alkali chemicals used in drinking water treatment. The agency said asbestos diaphragms are being used less frequently and that alternative methods for chlor-alkali production exist and are becoming more popular.
But Marty Durbin, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, said in a statement Tuesday that the EPA’s proposal will have “unintended consequences on safe drinking water and our already-precarious supply chain of consumer products.”
Yet the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, a nonprofit that advocates against asbestos use and has fought the EPA’s previous assessment of the risks of asbestos, commended the agency’s proposal to ban chrysotile asbestos.
ADAO president and co-founder Linda Reinstein said that the group strongly supports “putting an end to the dangerous use of chrysotile asbestos by the chlor-alkali industry, which has irresponsibly failed to adopt proven non-asbestos technology in the decades since it became available.”
“There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos and it would be indefensible to grant a loophole to an industry that has put its own profits ahead of public health,” Reinstein said.
The ADAO noted that while it is pleased the EPA has taken action on chrysotile asbestos, the ball is now in Congress’ court to enact a comprehensive ban that covers the five remaining asbestos fibers — crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite.
In addition to asbestos diaphragms, chrysotile asbestos is also found in products like sheet gaskets, brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, other vehicle friction products, and other gaskets imported into the U.S.. Chrysotile asbestos is the most commonly used variety of asbestos.