The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released new rules for the risk evaluation of asbestos as part of the new updates to the reformed Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
The agency introduced a new use rule (SNUR) proposal that would allow the EPA to prohibit new uses of asbestos, the mineral linked to mesothelioma, a deadly cancer. This is the first time the EPA issued such an action.
The SNUR would require the EPA’s approval before any asbestos-containing goods could be manufactured, processed or imported. The EPA would also be able to evaluate the intended use of asbestos and, if necessary, take action to limit or prohibit its use.
Environmental groups and anti-asbestos advocates, naturally, are skeptical of the SNUR proposal. They believe the new rules will undermine the TSCA and will completely ignore the health concerns of asbestos use and disposal.
They also bring up concerns about how the EPA will evaluate asbestos. They claim that the EPA will not take into account many sources of asbestos when evaluating the substance.
Asbestos is no longer mined in the U.S., but it’s still legal. In fact, we imported 705 metric tons of raw chrysotile asbestos in 2016. Most of the imports are used by the chloralkaline industry, which uses asbestos diaphragms when manufacturing chlorine. Gaskets and friction products, like brake pads, also use asbestos.
The mineral may also inadvertently be found in talc-based products. In fact, Johnson & Johnson faces a $4 billion verdict in a case that alleges a connection between its baby powder products and ovarian cancer.
The SNUR does not actually apply to new uses of asbestos. Instead, it applies to pre-1989 uses of the mineral that are still legal – but no one is using them today.
Essentially, the new rule stipulates that if companies want to start reusing asbestos in certain ways, they will need to seek the EPA’s approval first. The EPA has identified 15 product categories in which there are older-but-previously-developed uses that would be subject to the review process. This includes gaskets, adhesives, and high-grade electrical paper.
The SNUR does not change the earlier ban on asbestos, and it would not make legal any uses that were previously outlawed.
The EPA maintains that the proposed rule actually strengthens regulatory oversight of the mineral.
Under the newly-modified TSCA, the EPA is mandated to reevaluate chemicals on a regular basis. Asbestos was chosen as one of the first chemicals to receive new scrutiny.