EPA’s Historic Ban on Asbestos: What You Need to Know

March 19, 2024
EPA has outlawed uses of chrysotile asbestos, the last known form of the material currently in use within the U.S.

A decades-long battle to ban asbestos in the United States concluded March 18 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it would prohibit its remaining uses, marking the first regulation to be finalized under 2016 revisions to the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Under the ruling, the EPA has outlawed uses of chrysotile asbestos, the last known form of the material currently in use within the U.S. Asbestos, once commonly used in insulation, has been linked to more than 40,000 cancer-related deaths per year. 

Some of the current uses for chrysotile asbestos include gaskets and automotive brakes. The chlor-alkali sector uses asbestos diaphragms to make sodium hydroxide and chlorine to disinfect drinking water and wastewater.

Following the EPA announcement, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) commended the agency for allowing for an incremental phase-out period but reiterated previous statements that the EPA is not using the “best-available science” to make its determinations.

“Chrysotile asbestos diaphragm technology is being used safely by the chlor-alkali industry,” according to a statement by ACC’s chlorine panel. “This conclusion is supported by the data submitted to EPA by industry as part of the 2020 risk evaluation.”

But chrysotile asbestos is not the only way to disinfect water, the EPA said. Two-thirds of the chlorine produced in the U.S. is produced without using asbestos, the agency noted.

ACC also said the chlor-alkali industry provided the EPA with data and information outlining the need for a reasonable transition timeline, taking into account potential supply chain disruptions.

The eight remaining chlor-alkali facilities that use asbestos must transition to either non-asbestos diaphragms or to non-asbestos membrane technology. The EPA expects most facilities to comply within five years.

But companies that are transitioning multiple facilities to non-asbestos membrane technology have five years to convert their first facility, eight years to convert their second plant and 12 years to convert their third facility. The EPA is requiring the facilities to certify their continued progress with the agency.

The ban advances President Biden's Cancer Moonshot initiative to end cancer as we know it, the administration said. Exposure to asbestos is known to cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, ovarian cancer and laryngeal cancer. . 

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon said the ban aligns the U.S. with many other countries that have already recognized the dangers of asbestos. 

“Today’s rule is a positive first step to give all Americans a future free of exposure to asbestos – a carcinogen that has killed far too many," Merkley said. "This dangerous substance has been banned in more than 50 countries around the world, and the United States is finally starting to catch up. An immediate ban on the import of chrysotile asbestos for the chlor-alkali industry is a long overdue step forward for public health. However, it cannot be the end of the road when it comes to phasing out other dangerous asbestos fibers, and Congress has a role to play here when it comes to providing stronger protections for our health."

About the Author

Jonathan Katz | Executive Editor

Jonathan Katz, executive editor, brings nearly two decades of experience as a B2B journalist to Chemical Processing magazine. He has expertise on a wide range of industrial topics. Jon previously served as the managing editor for IndustryWeek magazine and, most recently, as a freelance writer specializing in content marketing for the manufacturing sector.

His knowledge areas include industrial safety, environmental compliance/sustainability, lean manufacturing/continuous improvement, Industry 4.0/automation and many other topics of interest to the Chemical Processing audience.

When he’s not working, Jon enjoys fishing, hiking and music, including a small but growing vinyl collection.

Jon resides in the Cleveland, Ohio, area.

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