Toning Down Toxins

EPA issues new rule on asbestos that goes short of total ban

All asbestos-containing products will be subject to review by the EPA under its final ruling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ryan Callaghan/Released)

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule that tightens restrictions on the use of asbestos-containing products in the United States. Made in response to the wave of criticism the EPA received last summer, the ruling makes adjustments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), forcing companies to gain prior approval from the agency before importing certain items for commercial sale or introducing them into domestic manufacturing processes. The EPA promises to evaluate these items in order to further restrict their use or ban them from the marketplace altogether. 

The agency expanded the scope of the rule that was first unveiled last summer by adding four new categories of products and a “catchall” category that would require the review of any asbestos uses not previously noted. Under the final rule, 19 asbestos-containing products including adhesives, sealants, roofing felt, as well as millboard, pipeline wrap, reinforced plastics, and vinyl-asbestos floor tile will be prohibited from entering the market without a risk evaluation by the EPA. Additionally, all five uses of asbestos previously banned under the 1989 law, such as rollboard and flooring felt, will remain prohibited.

EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement that before this decision was made, the EPA didn’t have the authority to wholesale prevent or restrict certain asbestos-containing products from being reintroduced into the market. This final rule would effectively close the loophole previously left in the partial ban that was enacted into legislation almost 30 years ago, but for many environmental advocacy groups, this move still isn’t enough.

Linda Reinstein, president of Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, told The New York Times the ruling was “toothless,” and that it doesn’t stop raw asbestos from being imported into the United States. According to the recent U.S. Geological Survey Mineral Commodity Summaries report, 300 tons of raw asbestos was imported in 2017 and almost all was used by the chloralkali industry.  

This news comes just weeks after Wheeler testified in front of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, saying he’d issue an outright ban on asbestos. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, denounced the ruling, saying it was a “complete betrayal of that commitment.”

Pallone in a statement: “It does nothing to restrict ongoing uses of asbestos…instead, it provides a pathway to market for uses that had previously been phased out, such as in floor tiles and insulation.”

The EPA says it will take at least 60 days for the final rule to go into effect.

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