The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced a change in the rules requiring companies to report uses of asbestos.
The EPA’s new “final rule”, issued under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), requires “comprehensive reporting on all six fiber types of asbestos.” This is the latest step in the EPA’s effort to eliminate exposure to asbestos for United States workers and residents. The rule requires asbestos manufacturers – such as importers and processors – to report use and exposure information from the past four years, including information on asbestos-containing products.
“We know that exposure to asbestos causes cancer and other serious health problems that still result in thousands of people dying every year, and today we’re continuing our work to protect people from this dangerous chemical,” said Michal Freedhoff, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “We’ve already proposed to ban chrysotile asbestos, and the data we’ll receive from this final rule will help us to better evaluate and address the health risks from the remaining uses and types of asbestos.”
Background on Asbestos
Asbestos, a naturally forming mineral, is a dangerous substance. It’s a carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer. Asbestos is the only cause of the rare cancer mesothelioma, which is diagnosed in an estimated 2,500 cases in the U.S. each year. Asbestos can also cause lung cancer, ovarian cancer and more deadly diseases.
Asbestos is not dangerous when intact. However, it is easily disturbed and can be affected by the slightest touch. When asbestos is disturbed, it can release tiny particles into the oxygen. These particles, called asbestos fibers, can be swallowed or inhaled and irritate cell linings in the human body.
During the 20th century, companies used asbestos in the manufacturing of building parts, insulation and more because the mineral is able to resist heat. It’s also durable, another appealing quality for industrial and commercial trades.
Many workers in certain occupations – such as construction, insulation, electrical work, plumbing and pipefitting, and more – were regularly exposed to sharp asbestos fibers. Occupational asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma, and the health risks led to scientific communities demanding companies to find alternatives to asbestos.
History of EPA Rulings on Asbestos
The EPA’s previous rule narrowed the scope of reporting to just chrysotile asbestos, which is the most common of the six asbestos types. Chrysotile asbestos is the primary type still imported into the United States.
Chrysotile asbestos is found in asbestos diaphragms, sheet gaskets, brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes/linings and other gaskets also imported into the country. Last year, the EPA proposed a ban on use of chrysotile asbestos and plans to finalize that rule by the end of 2023.
The other types of asbestos, which are also dangerous and capable of causing mesothelioma, are:
- Amosite asbestos
- Crocidolite asbestos
- Tremolite asbestos
- Actinolite asbestos
- Anthophyllite asbestos
According to the EPA’s ruling, the agency’s failure to consider the other asbestos types “and its decision to exclude legacy uses” led to lawsuits. Legacy asbestos refers to asbestos found in old homes and buildings. This asbestos was likely applied during the 20th century.
Details of the New Asbestos Ruling
The EPA’s latest ruling ensures that no other types of asbestos are used or imported without proper reporting. According to the announcement, the EPA’s new ruling requires manufacturers or processors of asbestos from 2019-2022 “with annual sales above $500,000 in any of those years” to report exposure-related information. This includes:
- Quantities of asbestos manufactured or processed
- Types of use
- Employee data
This rule also covers asbestos-containing products and asbestos that’s part of a mixture, such as joint compounds used for drywall panels.
It also requires reporting on asbestos in impurities, which includes asbestos contamination of talc products. Asbestos in talc is a growing concern, with the manufacturer Johnson & Johnson at the center of the issue. The company’s popular talc Baby Powder product has been linked to asbestos exposure for consumers and is the subject of tens of thousands of cancer lawsuits.
The EPA plans to use this rule to gather evidence for future actions – even a complete ban – regarding asbestos.
Sources & Author
- EPA Takes Another Step to Protect the Public from Asbestos Exposure by Finalizing Rule to Require Comprehensive Reporting. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-takes-another-step-protect-public-asbestos-exposure-finalizing-rule-require. Accessed: 07/20/2023.
Sources & Author