Chemicals, Enforcement and Inspection, HazMat

The EPA’s Ongoing Battle to Ban Asbestos

The EPA continues to attempt to pass regulations banning asbestos, while industry remains committed to blocking any forthcoming laws.

At this time, the only remaining form of asbestos imported into the United States is chrysotile, or “white,” asbestos, which is found in products like asbestos diaphragms, sheet gaskets, brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes/linings, other vehicle friction products, and other gaskets also imported into the United States, says an EPA news release.

Raw chrysotile asbestos is used exclusively by the chlor-alkali industry and “is a flexible material that can separate molecules and is central to about one-third of the country’s chlorine manufacturing capacity,” according to The Washington Post. “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC), the chemical manufacturers’ American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the oil industry’s American Petroleum Institute (API) say that banning the substance as quickly as the EPA has proposed could hurt the country’s chlorine supply, leading to shortages of clean drinking water or skyrocketing prices.”

In 2016, Congress overhauled the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to provide clear requirements and an EPA mandate to comprehensively prioritize and evaluate chemicals and put in place strong and timely protections against any unreasonable risks.

On April 5, 2022, the EPA announced a proposed rule to prohibit ongoing uses of the only known form of asbestos currently imported into the United States. It was the first-ever risk management rule issued under the new process for evaluating and addressing the safety of existing chemicals under the 2016 TSCA.

This proposed rule, which could become final by late 2023, is opposed by many in industry, while environmental activists are frustrated by the slow progress in completely banning any kind of asbestos use, adds The Washington Post.

Currently, more than 60 countries have completely banned the use of the mineral, according to

“EPA’s two-year timetable could cause immediate hardships including several shortages of chlorine, supply chain disruptions, obstacles to drinking water disinfection processes, dramatic price increases, and broad impacts to economic development opportunities,” states a post from the ACC. “Industries such as public utilities, construction, development, manufacturing, trade unions and community centers would be impacted if the two-year phaseout of chrysotile asbestos is enacted.”

The EPA disagrees.

“While chlorine is a commonly used disinfectant in water treatment, there are only 10 chlor-alkali plants in the U.S. that still use asbestos diaphragms to produce chlorine and sodium hydroxide,” adds the EPA news release. “One plant is expected to close this year. The nine remaining chlor-alkali plants using asbestos diaphragms range in age from 40 to 123 years old and none have increased use of asbestos diaphragms in approximately 17 years. The use of asbestos diaphragms has been declining and these remaining plants only account for about one-third of the chlor-alkali production in the country. Alternatives to asbestos-containing diaphragms for chlor-alkali plants exist, and the use of alternatives, specifically membrane cells, accounts for almost half of the country’s chlor-alkali production.”

The EPA has been hampered from moving forward on additional asbestos regulations by chemical analysis determinations made under the Trump administration, the unlawful ruling on the asbestos review issued by the federal appeals court, and budget and staff limitations.

Michal Freedhoff, head of the EPA’s chemical safety and pollution prevention, said the pace for chemical reviews will pick up later this year, according to The Washington Post.

“The ongoing fight over asbestos suggests it could be a slog for the EPA to fulfill the law and issue all these new rules,” Bob Sussman, a lawyer and former EPA deputy administrator during President Bill Clinton’s administration, says in The Washington Post. “The law was a compromise that works effectively only if industry can accept some restrictions on commercially important chemicals,” he adds.

“Industry’s game plan has been to attack EPA for overreaching even while working to assure that EPA accomplishes far less than the public and many in Congress expected,” continues Sussman, who now represents the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. “It’s a strategy calculated to make a struggling agency even weaker and more paralyzed by making every decision contentious and contested.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.