EPA Falls Short of Total Asbestos Ban with New Rule

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new asbestos rule that limits asbestos imports and use but does not completely ban the material. Advocate groups are disappointed with the new rule after the head of the Agency said he would support a full ban. Asbestos is connected to serious illnesses and cancers, including mesothelioma and lung cancer.

The New Asbestos Rule

In 2016 an amendment to the Toxic Substances Control act was instituted that required the list of harmful toxic substances be regularly re-evaluated. The result of the re-evaluation of asbestos was a new rule to limit it use even further.

The EPA does not currently ban asbestos, and many were hoping that this new rule would be an outright ban. Instead, the rule states that companies have to get approval from the EPA before being able to import certain types of asbestos and products. Approval will also be required before these products can be manufactured in the U.S. The products and uses that now require approval include:

  • Adhesives, sealants, and roof coatings
  • Arc chutes
  • Beater-add gaskets
  • Cement products
  • Extruded sealant tape
  • Acetylene cylinder filler
  • Friction materials
  • Electrical paper
  • Millboard
  • Missile liner
  • Packaging
  • Pipeline wrap
  • Reinforced plastics
  • Roofing felt
  • Fuel cell and battery separators
  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • Textiles

The regulation also requires approval on any other building materials or use of asbestos not identified, with a few exceptions. This provides a catchall for nearly any new type of use of asbestos materials or products.

Critics Say the Rule Doesn’t Go Far Enough

While many people have applauded the rule change for placing more restrictions on asbestos use, others are disappointed. Many had hoped the rule change would include a total ban on asbestos products. Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the EPA had testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee stating that he would be committed to banning asbestos. But the new rule falls short of that commitment.

Why Asbestos is So Damaging

Asbestos is a mineral that has long been used in a number of construction and industrial applications. It comes in six different forms that can be mined from the ground. The properties of asbestos that are so useful include fire and heat resistance, flexibility, lightweight, strength, and resistance to electricity.

But exposure to asbestos fibers also causes a lot of harm. The small fibers that are inhaled or ingested by people in the vicinity of its use can trigger serious illnesses. The illness most often associated with asbestos is pleural mesothelioma, a deadly and aggressive cancer that is otherwise rare. Thousands of people have been exposed to asbestos and developed this fatal cancer as a result, which is why many are calling for a full asbestos ban.

While the new regulation from the EPA falls short of that total ban, only time will tell if the next review will be different. The next time asbestos comes up for re-evaluation, the EPA may finally decide to completely ban any import or use of this highly dangerous, carcinogenic material.