It is hard to believe that asbestos has never been completely banned in the United States. Though manufacture was limited after 1977 and the last asbestos mine in the US closed in 2002, banned items include but are not limited to
· Corrugated paper
· Roll board
· Commercial paper
· Specialty paper
· Flooring felt
· Asbestos pipe insulation and asbestos block insulation on facility components, such as boilers and
hot water tanks, if the materials are either pre-formed (molded) and friable or wet-applied and friable after drying.
· Spray-applied surfacing asbestos-containing materials Asbestos in artificial fireplace embers and wall patching compounds
However, examples of asbestos-containing products not banned include:
· Cement corrugated sheet
· Cement flat sheet
· Pipeline wrap
· Roofing felt
· Vinyl floor tile
· Cement shingle
· Cement pipe
· Automatic transmission components
· Clutch facings
· Friction materials
· Disk brake pads
· Drum brake linings
· Brake blocks
· Non-roofing coatings
· Roof coatings
In June 2018, the EPA proposed a significant new use rule (SNUR) that would prohibit these uses. Please note, the EPA is not allowing what the agency legally defines as “new uses” of asbestos back into the market.
Isn’t this good?
Possibly not. According to critics, there are two concerns with the new rule.
The first concern is the way the EPA has written the SNUR. It does not ban of all currently inactive unregulated uses but instead only bans 15 specific uses the EPA “believes” to be comprehensive – thus some now dormant uses could be allowed.
The second concern is the way the risk of these “currently unregulated former uses” will be evaluated. In May 2018, the EPA published a document known as the “Problem Formulation of the Risk Evaluation for Asbestos,” which establishes the scientific approach the EPA will take in evaluating these new uses. Surprising, their review will not include information from existing (or “legacy”) uses of asbestos, despite the significant information detailing health risks from those uses.
Thus, the agency won’t consider the dangers posed by, for example, asbestos-containing tiles, adhesives and piping in millions of homes and commercial buildings nationwide.
In addition, the E.P.A. documents narrow the definition of asbestos such that the 8.8 million pounds a year of asbestos deposited in hazardous landfills or the 13.1 million pounds discarded in routine dump sites will be excluded.
The most likely outcome of the changes will be that the agency finds lower levels of risk and as a result, imposes fewer new restrictions or prohibitions.
What should we do?
Comments on the Risk Evaluation will be published soon. We must continue to be vigilant. We know the effects and impacts that asbestos has had. For the 2,500 people that die from asbestos-related lung cancer deaths per year – including my grandmother, this is pertinent. We must be resolute in its complete ban.