Asbestos Questions and Answers – August 2018

Isn’t asbestos already banned?

Surprisingly no. The EPA tried to ban it in 1989, but a court rejected bans on all but a handful of uses. While most uses have been phased out, there is no law that prevents them from coming back.

How big of a problem is asbestos?

Asbestos is one of the most studied and dangerous toxic substances in the world and it’s still legal. The health risks are well-understood and new research suggests that as many as 40,000 Americans still die from asbestos-related diseases every year. There is no safe or “controlled” use. EPA must take swift action to finally ban this dangerous carcinogen.

Haven’t we stopped using it?

No. Hundreds of tons of raw asbestos are imported into the U.S. each year. Most of it is used in the chlor-alkali industry to make chlorine, but asbestos has been found in children’s crayons, talc, automobile brakes and other products. Asbestos is still found in older homes, schools, and other buildings across the country and there is significant ongoing exposure and risk to workers and the general population.  There are as many as 40,000 deaths from asbestos-related illnesses in the U.S. each year.

What is EPA doing about it?

Not enough. With the 2016 reform of U.S. chemical law, EPA now has the authority to ban all uses of asbestos, including its manufacture, use, storage and disposal. But EPA has repeatedly said that the “risk evaluation” it is now conducting will not consider uses of asbestos that are “discontinued” but still not illegal – including plaster, floor tiles and insulation that can be found in homes, schools and workplaces across the nation. It is also not looking at the risks of allowing asbestos mining to resume in the U.S. The end result could be very little meaningful evaluation of current and future risks and little or no regulation of asbestos and a failure to adequately protect the public from exposure.

Why isn’t that good enough?

The law requires that EPA consider all “conditions of use,” including manufacture, use, storage and disposal. By ignoring “discontinued” uses, EPA is disregarding a number of ways that the public is or could be exposed to asbestos. The end result could be very little protection for public health, when what we really need is a ban on all uses.

What is a SNUR, and isn’t that helpful?

EPA has proposed a Significant New Use Rule that will require anyone wanting to resume any of 15 discontinued uses to send notice to the EPA, which would have the authority to say that the use poses an unreasonable risk, and reject it. But there is no guarantee that EPA would choose that action, and a SNUR is much less effective than the permanent protection that a ban would provide.

EPA says that without the SNUR they would not have a regulatory basis to restrict manufacturing and processing for the new asbestos uses it covers.

There is nothing in the law that would prevent EPA from doing a full evaluation of asbestos and a comprehensive ban—indeed we believe that the law requires such a full evaluation and ban. The SNUR is a backstop, but EPA has the authority and responsibility to do more to protect the public from this deadly substance. The SNUR should not be used as an excuse for not doing more to eliminate asbestos.

Is EPA proposing to allow new uses of asbestos?

Not at this moment, but the process EPA is proposing leaves a door open for uses that have been phased out to be resumed. Their process does not guarantee that these uses would not be resumed and EPA has not stated clearly that no new uses will be approved.

Could the proposed SNUR be stronger?

Yes — in two ways. First, the SNUR should apply to all discontinued uses, not simply the 15 discontinued uses identified by EPA. Second, the SNUR exempts anyone exporting a product (known as an “article”) that contains asbestos from notifying the country that will be receiving the article. There is no reason to include this exemption, and EPA should eliminate it in the final version of the rule.

FROM THE EPA PRESS RELEASE

“For asbestos, EPA is proposing a SNUR for certain uses of asbestos (including asbestos-containing goods) that would require manufacturers and importers to receive EPA approval before starting or resuming manufacturing, and importing or processing of asbestos. This review process would provide EPA with the opportunity to evaluate the intended use of asbestos and, when necessary, take action to prohibit or limit the use. Read the document. Comments are due in 60 days upon publication in the Federal Register (Docket: EPA-HQ-OPPT-2018-0159).”

“Discontinued” uses subject to the proposed Significant New Use Rule:

  1. Asbestos arc chutes
  2. Asbestos pipeline wrap
  3. Asbestos separators in fuel cells and batteries
  4. Asbestos-reinforced plastics
  5. Beater-add gaskets
  6. Extruded sealant tape
  7. Filler for acetylene cylinders
  8. High-grade electrical paper
  9. Millboard
  10. Missile liner
  11. Roofing felt
  12. Vinyl-asbestos floor tile
  13. Adhesives and Sealants
  14. Roof and Non-Roof Coatings
  15. Other Building Products (other than cement products)