Proponents of an asbestos ban have been asking for progress of U.S. Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency for decades. One of the major hurdles is getting support from companies that still rely on asbestos – namely, companies involved in chlorine production.
One company shifted its stance to support an asbestos ban, which could be a major swing of the pendulum.
Olin Corp., which has been criticized for putting facility workers at risk of asbestos exposure, announced it is in favor of banning asbestos. ProPublica reported the news after the outlet revealed how chlorine companies still use asbestos and can cause occupational asbestos exposure and environmental asbestos exposure.
ProPublica reported last year that workers from Olin and other companies were exposed to asbestos. They were not given protective gear, which creates a hazardous work setting. Mesothelioma Guide also reported about the issue and how the chlor-alkali industry is propping up the use of asbestos well after it should’ve gone extinct. Two companies, Olin Corp. and OxyChem, were the focus of the reports.
Why Asbestos Should Be Banned
Asbestos is the only known cause of a rare cancer called mesothelioma. Around 2,500-3,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, and the 5-year survival rate from this cancer is less than 10%.
Asbestos can also cause lung cancer, ovarian cancer and other deadly diseases.
The health issues – and mesothelioma lawsuits from cancer victims – have led many companies to find alternatives to asbestos. Construction, electricity, shipbuilding and other uses of asbestos have been nonexistent since the 20th century. However, asbestos is still part of chlorine production.
Olin Corp. CEO Scott Sutton sent a letter to the EPA recently to endorse a ban. ProPublica reported the letter asks for “seven years” to allow companies to phase out asbestos materials in use. Companies use asbestos to thicken metal screens that keep explosive chemicals from mixing.
The seven-year window would allow for companies to find an alternative for making new screens and replace any existing screens with asbestos.
Chlor-Alkali and Asbestos
Chlor-alkali, a chemical manufactured through electrolysis, is required to make chlorine, hydrogen, and sodium hydroxide (caustic) solution. Asbestos is used in the chlor-alkali electrolysis diaphragms for its durability and resistance to chemical reactions. The durable properties of asbestos help the diaphragm to sustain the impact of the electric currents and keep the chemicals separated. This prevents explosions.
According to the Chlorine Institute, there are 44 active chlor-alkali plants in the United States. However, only 15 use asbestos diaphragms in their production process. Olin Corp. is one of four companies with plants still using asbestos diaphragms.
The EPA intends to finalize a ban of asbestos in 2023. The U.S. is well behind other countries in banning the substance. More than 60 countries have outlawed asbestos. Meanwhile, the U.S. still imports hundreds of tons of asbestos each year.
The EPA attempted to ban asbestos in 1989, but the ban was quickly undone due to a court challenge from asbestos companies. Bills in Congress have stalled, leading to a wait-and-see situation in the 21st century.
However, more people are shifting to support a ban, as evidenced by Olin Corp. changing sides and signaling another sea change in the fight to ban asbestos.
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