EHS Management

Sorting Out Asbestos Bans

Some bans exist under the Clean Air Act and others under the Toxic Substances Control Act.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission has also banned asbestos in certain products.  And regulations issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) require that employee exposure to asbestos not exceed permissible exposure limits (PEL) unless respirators are worn. 

Asbestos is a substance that is irrefutably toxic to humans.  This recognition led the EPA in 1989 to ban the manufacture, import, processing, and distribution of virtually all products containing asbestos.  Industry challenged that action in court in a pivotal TSCA case.  Without denying the lethality of asbestos at virtually all levels of exposure, the court found that the EPA failed to meet the high standards required by TSCA to institute a ban. 

For example, the court ruled that the EPA had not demonstrated that the ban was the least burdensome alternative for eliminating the unreasonable risk of asbestos, had provided an unconvincing analysis that effective substitute materials were available, and did not properly quantify the benefits of the ban.  What the EPA did demonstrate in the case after a 10-year effort to promulgate the asbestos ban was the extraordinary difficulty of banning a substance under TSCA.


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Still, Some Asbestos Bans Remain 

Here’s a summary of asbestos products banned and not banned under federal rules.

Clean Air Act.  The EPA has taken various actions under authority of the CAA’s national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants (NESHAP) to ban two types of asbestos containing products – most spray-applied surfacing asbestos containing material (ACM) and thermal system insulation with ACM.  Specifically:

  • Spray applied surfacing ACM fireproofing/insulating and ACM applied for decorative purposes are banned under the 1973 and 1978 NESHAPs respectively. 
  • The 1990 NESHAP revision also prohibits spray-on application of materials containing more than 1 percent asbestos to buildings, structures, pipes, and conduits unless the material is encapsulated with a bituminous or resinous binder during spraying and the materials are not friable after drying. 
  • The 1990 revision still allows materials that contain more than 1 percent asbestos to be sprayed onto equipment and machinery provided the asbestos fibers in the materials are encapsulated with a bituminous or resinous binder during spraying and the materials are not friable after drying; or, for friable materials, where either no visible emissions are discharged to the outside air from spray-on application or specified methods are used to clean emissions containing particulate asbestos material before they escape to or are vented to the outside air. 
  • Installation of wet-applied and pre-formed (molded) asbestos pipe insulation is banned (1975 NESHAP). 
  • Installation of pre-formed (molded) asbestos block insulation on boilers and hot water tanks is banned (1975 NESHAP).
  • There is no ban on troweled-on surfacing ACM. 

TSCA

  • Six asbestos-containing products are banned – corrugated paper, rollboard, commercial paper, specialty paper, flooring felt, and new uses of asbestos.
  • Products that were subject to the EPA’s original 1989 ban, which are no longer banned are corrugated asbestos cement sheets, flat asbestos cement sheets, asbestos clothing, pipeline wrap, roofing felt, vinyl-asbestos floor tile, asbestos-cement shingle, millboard, asbestos-cement pipe, automatic transmission components, clutch facings, friction materials, disc brake pads, drum brake linings, brake blocks, gaskets, non-roofing coatings, and roof coatings.

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Consumer Product Safety Commission.  In 1977, the CPSC banned two products that contain asbestos:

  • Products such as spackling compounds, tape joint compounds, and other mixtures that consumers use to patch or seal cracks, holes, or other imperfections in drywall and other surfaces.  These products may be in dry form ready to be mixed with water or may be an already-mixed paste.
  • Decorative simulated ashes or embers that are placed under artificial logs in gas-burning fireplaces and that, when heated, glow like real burning embers. The ban includes material containing asbestos that is glued to artificial logs either at the factory or by consumers using an “emberizing” kit, and also covers artificial embers and ashes used in artificial fireplaces for decorative purposes.

Products Containing Asbestos are Still Manufactured and Sold in the U.S. 

The only way to know with certainty if a material contains asbestos is to have it tested by an accredited laboratory, and the only way to know where asbestos-containing material is located in a home or any other building is to have an inspection by a state-certified asbestos inspector.

EPA issued a clarification on the status of asbestos products that are banned at this time, as well as categories of asbestos-containing products that are NOT subject to a ban.

See tomorrow’s Advisor to get a better understanding of asbestos regulation under both EPA and OSHA rules.