Asbestos Exposure & Bans

EPA Asbestos Review Delayed Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

Written By:
Apr 23, 2020
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Written By: Tim Povtak,
April 23, 2020

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency postponed a peer review of the recent asbestos risk evaluation draft done by its Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals until June 8-11.

A peer review virtual meeting was scheduled for April 27-30, but some independent scientific experts on the panel were not available. A recent Bloomberg Law article explained that several health professionals serving on the committee could not attend because they needed to “give their full attention to the coronavirus crisis.”

The rescheduled peer review will be held via phone and webcast. Written public comments, which will be presented to the Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals, will be accepted until June 2.

A peer review of the draft is a step toward the EPA’s final risk evaluation for asbestos, the ninth of the first 10 substances and chemicals to undergo increased scrutiny as part of the amended Toxic Substances Control Act.

Evaluation of Asbestos Continues

Once the SACC finishes the evaluation process, the EPA will have the option of proposing further regulations to prohibit or limit the manufacture, use, distribution, processing or disposal of asbestos.

Asbestos, which was once used ubiquitously in America, is heavily regulated today because of its dangerous toxicity. It is a naturally occurring mineral that can provide tensile strength and heat resistance to a wide range of products.

Exposure to asbestos can lead to ingestion or inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibers. These fibers can cause serious health problems, including mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Asbestos has not been mined in the U.S. since 2002. An estimated 100 metric tons of asbestos were imported in 2019, the smallest amount since records were first kept in 1910.

All raw asbestos imported today goes to the chloralkali industry, which uses it to manufacture semipermeable diaphragms for making chlorine.

EPA Assessment Finds Unreasonable Asbestos Risk

One of the biggest threats to the public today is legacy asbestos, products that were manufactured 30 years ago but remain in place throughout residential and commercial construction.

The draft risk evaluation by the SACC in March, which looked at 33 conditions of use, found “unreasonable risk” in the limited products still being used today. The SACC draft cited:

  • Asbestos diaphragms in the chloralkali industry
  • Asbestos-containing brake blocks in the oil industry
  • Asbestos-containing sheet gaskets in chemical production
  • Automobile aftermarket asbestos-containing brake linings
  • Automobile friction products
  • Commercial use of asbestos-containing gaskets

“EPA found that workers, occupational non-users, consumers and bystanders could be adversely affected by asbestos under certain conditions of use,” the draft reported.

The EPA found no unreasonable risks to the environment, or from the import and distribution of asbestos and asbestos products.

It did not evaluate exposures to the general population.

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