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EPA bans remaining uses of cancer-causing asbestos in the US

todayMarch 18, 2024


Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

(WASHINGTON) — The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday announced a United States ban on the ongoing use of chrysotile asbestos — a carcinogen that the agency estimates is linked to more than 40,000 U.S. deaths each year.

The announcement comes as part of President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, which is using federal resources to make progress on cancer research and treatment.

“While the use of asbestos in the United States has been declining for decades, the use of chrysotile asbestos has continued to this day. Because of its resistance to heat, fire and electrical conduction, it has remained in use for a variety of construction and industrial products,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a Monday press call.

“But the science is clear and settled,” Regan added. “There is simply no safe level of exposure to asbestos.”

Chrysotile asbestos is the only known form of asbestos currently used in or imported to the U.S. Exposure to asbestos can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, ovarian cancer and other health issues, Regan said. It is also linked to more than 40,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to the EPA.

“Asbestos has harmed people across the country for decades, and under President Biden’s leadership, we are taking decisive action to ban its use and advance this administration’s historic environmental justice agenda,” White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory said in a news release. “This action marks a major step to improve chemical safety after decades of inadequate protections, helping advance President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot goal to end cancer as we know it.”

The EPA previously tried to ban asbestos in most products under the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1989, but the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the ban could apply only to products that would use asbestos for the first time. Continued use of asbestos in existing products was permitted.

Asbestos is currently used in the U.S. in products such as brake linings and gaskets in cars and in the production of chlorine.

Monday’s ban is the first the EPA has issued for existing chemical use since Congress updated the Toxic Substances Control Act in 2016, which changed the process for evaluating and addressing safety concerns.

“The failed asbestos ban from over 30 years ago was the reason why we needed to rewrite TSCA. And why Congress did so with almost unanimous support in 2016,” said Michal Freedhoff, assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “Today’s rule is important for public health, but it’s also a symbol of how the new law can and must be used to protect people.”

Regan called the ban a “sign of what’s to come.”

“The Biden administration is transforming the way EPA is using the new chemical safety law to do what it was meant to do — protect people from toxic chemicals,” he said.

The EPA has set compliance deadlines for the ban to transition away from different uses of chrysotile asbestos, attempting to provide a reasonable transition period while discontinuing the use of asbestos in each product as soon as possible, the agency said.

“At EPA, protecting public health and the environment is our privilege and our greatest responsibility,” Regan said. “And today’s rule is a major step forward in helping us to achieve our goals.”

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