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Chemical Regulation

After 30 years, EPA finally bans last form of asbestos used in the US

Chrysotile asbestos ban is the first rule to be finalized under a revamped chemical safety law

by Krystal Vasquez
March 19, 2024

Up-close shot of chrysotile asbestos fibers.
Credit: Shutterstock
Chrysotile asbestos is the only known form of asbestos that is still used in and imported to the US.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has banned chrysotile asbestos, the last type of asbestos that companies still use and import to the US. Eight chlor-alkali plants currently use chrysotile asbestos, a carcinogen, to make the high-volume chemicals sodium hydroxide and chlorine. Companies also use the material to make automotive and industrial products, such as aftermarket brakes and sheet gaskets.

According to the EPA, exposure to any kind of asbestos can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, ovarian cancer, and laryngeal cancer. It has also been linked to more than 40,000 deaths in the US per year.

“The science is clear. There is simply no safe level of exposure to asbestos,” EPA administrator Michael Regan said in a call with reporters. “With today’s ban, EPA is finally slamming the door on a chemical so dangerous that it has been banned in over 50 countries.”

The new rule is the EPA’s second attempt to ban asbestos in the US. In 1989, the agency issued a rule banning most asbestos-containing products under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). But a federal court overturned the ban in 1991.

TSCA “was so significantly weakened by this court decision that it was rendered almost powerless to protect the people who needed protecting the most,” Michal Freedhoff, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said during the press briefing.

TSCA was amended in 2016, providing the EPA with more authority to restrict or ban commercial chemicals. The chrysotile asbestos ban is the first rule to be finalized under the revamped chemical safety law.

“Today’s rules are important for public health, but it’s also a symbol of how the new law can and must be used to protect people,” Freedhoff said.

The new asbestos rule will require six of the eight chlor-alkali facilities to completely transition away from the substance within 5 years. The remaining two plants will have up to 12 years to complete their transition because of the time needed to construct new facilities and obtain new permits.

The transition is already underway at some chlor-alkali facilities. Last year, OxyChem chose technology to replace the asbestos diaphragms it uses to manufacture chlorine and sodium hydroxide at its largest plant, and Olin announced plans to stop using the diaphragms. Westlake says it is in the midst of a multiyear conversion of its one asbestos-based plant in the US.

The EPA will also require other users of chrysotile asbestos to phase out the material within 5 years. One exception is the use of asbestos-containing gaskets at a US Department of Energy facility in South Carolina, which uses the gaskets to protect workers from radiation during the disposal of nuclear materials.

In a statement, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization commends the ban. Still, Linda Reinstein, president of the organization, says it is “alarmed that the rule allows an unnecessarily long transition period and creates inconsistent compliance deadlines for certain asbestos users, which will allow dangerous exposure to chrysotile asbestos to continue for years to come.”

The EPA says facilities that require more than 2 years to phase out the asbestos fiber will be required to implement strict workplace safety measures to protect workers. The agency is also drafting a risk evaluation for other types of asbestos fibers that are no longer used but may be still present in buildings and consumer products.


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