The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the importation, sale, distribution, and use of asbestos on Monday, March 18, 2024, with the exception of a few specific industries for which there will be a multi-year transition period. The decision comes after years of reviewing the health risks of asbestos and considering pleas from advocacy groups to finally ban the substance in the United States.

The EPA called it a “historic” decision in efforts to protect workers and other U.S. residents from exposure to the deadly mineral.

“The science is clear – asbestos is a known carcinogen that has severe impacts on public health,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in a statement published on the EPA website. “President (Joe) Biden understands that this concern has spanned generations and impacted the lives of countless people. That’s why EPA is so proud to finalize this long-needed ban on ongoing uses of asbestos.”

Asbestos was already heavily regulated by the EPA, with few permitted uses of the mineral. The most common type of asbestos, chrysotile asbestos, was the only of the six asbestos types still imported into the United States. Chrysotile asbestos, also called “white asbestos,” was imported and used for car parts such as brakes, linings and gaskets, along with roofing materials, textiles, cement and diaphragms to make chlorine.

“With today’s ban, EPA is finally slamming the door on a chemical so dangerous that it has been banned in more than 50 countries,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan.


What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a thin, fibrous, naturally occurring mineral that is flexible and resistant to electricity and heat. These qualities made the mineral appealing to incorporate into various products and materials to be used in several industries, including automobile production, construction and insulation of buildings, the making of military ships and aircraft, and as an insulant for home appliances such as hair dryers, stoves, oven mitts, electrical wires and furnaces.

Asbestos rose to prominence in the first half of the 20th century and during World War II, when the rapid production of military aircraft and ships required a cheap insulant material, which became asbestos. The use of asbestos-containing products and materials continued in the construction of schools, homes, offices, automobile parts and more.

When asbestos-containing materials are disturbed and broken apart, loose and sharp fibers contaminate the air. Anyone in the vicinity can unknowingly inhale or swallow these floating fibers, which can get trapped in tissue linings or organ tissue (such as the tissue wall of the lungs) and cause cells to mutate into cancer.

Asbestos is the only known cause of the rare and aggressive cancer mesothelioma. The substance can also cause lung cancer, ovarian cancer and other deadly health conditions.

Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelial tissue linings, which surround the lungs, abdominal cavity, heart and testes. The large majority of mesothelioma cancer cases form in the lining of either the lungs or abdomen, called the pleura and peritoneum, respectively.

There are nearly 3,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed each year in the U.S., and the only cause is exposure to asbestos, which would have never been a risk for the public had these greedy corporations not neglected the public’s health. Companies manufactured and sold asbestos and asbestos-containing products despite knowing the severe health risks associated with the substance. The public was unaware that the asbestos on their job sites and in their homes, cars, schools, office buildings and more could potentially be the reason for their cancer diagnosis years later.

The majority of people with mesothelioma develop the rare cancer due to occupational asbestos exposure, notably exposure that occurred while working jobs such as construction, insulation, electrical work, shipbuilding, plumbing and pipefitting, boilermaker and factory work. These workers may have also brought asbestos into their homes on their clothes or hair, which led to asbestos exposure for their family members. This is called secondary asbestos exposure.

The manufacturing and distribution of asbestos-related products and materials carried on for decades. However, during the 1970s, the science community began linking asbestos exposure to different types of cancer and other deadly health conditions, but the production of these materials continued for years. The EPA and FDA conducted a handful of investigations on the risks of asbestos and its presence in certain consumer goods, but there was no official ban placed on asbestos. By 1990, asbestos was heavily regulated and phased out of commercial and industrial manufacturing.


Transition Period for Industries Still Using Asbestos

While the EPA is banning asbestos, the agency is allowing a transition period for companies still using asbestos-containing products and materials. The EPA determined the length of the transition period for each company or factory, and some are allowed more than a decade to enact procedures using alternatives.

The primary lingering use of asbestos is in the chlor-alkali industry, where the substance is used to make diaphragms. Chlor-alkali companies claim these diaphragms are integral to producing chlorine to disinfect drinking water and wastewater.

However, there are other ways to disinfect water besides using asbestos diaphragms, and only eight chlor-alkali facilities in the U.S. still use asbestos. Mesothelioma Guide recently reported on the use of asbestos in chlor-alkali plants and the risks these facilities pose to workers.

The EPA is ensuring those eight chlor-alkali facilities have a reasonable amount of time to transition to an alternative method for producing chlorine. The agency announced it is banning the import of asbestos for chlor-alkali use immediately, and the eight facilities must transition to non-asbestos production within five years. The EPA determined that converting facilities “requires extensive construction, additional permits, specialized expertise and parts for which there are limited suppliers.”

The EPA’s ruling also:

  • Bans most asbestos-containing sheet gaskets within two years, with five years allowed for the phasing out of sheet gaskets used to produce titanium dioxide and to process nuclear material
  • Allows asbestos-containing sheet gaskets to be used through 2037 at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site to ensure nuclear materials are disposed of safely and on schedule
  • Bans the use of asbestos in oilfield brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, other vehicle friction products, and other gaskets within six months

“EPA is requiring strict workplace safety measures to protect workers from asbestos exposure during any phaseout periods longer than two years,” the EPA’s press release states. E”PA is also ensuring that asbestos is disposed of properly, in line with industry standards, Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements, and the Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants.”


Past Attempts to Ban Asbestos

In 1989, the EPA attempted to ban asbestos, but the ruling was short-lived. In 1991, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned the EPA’s ruling and limited the ban to only new uses of the substance. Prior uses remained legal.

U.S. Congress members have proposed legislation to ban the use of the mineral. The most recent attempt to pass a bill banning asbestos was the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act, which was an agenda item for a U.S. House of Representatives meeting in 2020 but was pulled from the agenda shortly before the meeting began.

In 2023, the EPA tightened asbestos regulations. The agency’s “final rule,” issued under the Toxic Substances Control Act, required “comprehensive reporting on all six fiber types of asbestos.” The ruling required asbestos manufacturers – including importers and processors – to report use and exposure information from the previous four years. The ruling still applies to the other five types of asbestos, which are not yet banned but would need to be reported to the EPA and can be prohibited on a case-by-case basis.


Does the EPA Ban End the Risks of Asbestos Exposure?

The EPA’s ban only applies to chrysotile asbestos, which is one of six types of asbestos. While chrysotile asbestos is the only type imported and reported for use, there could be other asbestos types slipping through regulations.

For example, another type of asbestos (tremolite asbestos) has been detected in cosmetic products made with talcum powder. Talc and asbestos are naturally occurring minerals that cohabitate in the same geographic areas and often mix together. The close proximity of the two minerals has led to asbestos-contaminated talc, which led to tens of thousands of lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson regarding the company’s talcum powder-based baby powder. Fortunately, the company has stopped making its baby powder with talc and now has a cornstarch-based product instead.  

There’s also still a risk of legacy asbestos, which refers to asbestos remaining in old houses, office buildings, schools and other structures that have not been repaired or renovated in many years. Asbestos-containing materials installed in these buildings during the 20th century can deteriorate over time and cause asbestos exposure for current residents, office workers, repair and renovation workers and others.

Additionally, lawmakers said passing legislation through Congress would provide the most substantial protection against asbestos and a future regulation reversal by the EPA. The agency could in the future roll back this ruling to loosen the regulations and allow companies to import and use the mineral again. To ensure chrysotile asbestos remains banned for good in the United States, continue advocating for a ban and writing representatives to push for laws against asbestos 


Sources & Author

  1. EPA bans last form of asbestos used in United States. CNN. Retrieved from: Accessed: 03/18/2024.
  2. U.S. bans the Last Type of Asbestos Still in Use. New York Times. Retrieved from: Accessed: 03/18/2024.
  3. Biden-Harris Administration finalizes ban on ongoing uses of asbestos to protect people from cancer. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from: Accessed: 03/18/2024.

Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.

    Sources & Author

Picture of Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.