EPA Confirms All Six Current Asbestos Uses Are a Health Risk

Asbestos // January 28, 2021
Chrysotile Asbestos Risk

At the end of 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a Final Risk Evaluation for Asbestos, Part 1: Chrysotile Asbestos. The evaluation looked at chrysotile asbestos and the risks it may pose to human health and the environment.

The EPA determined chrysotile asbestos poses no current environmental risk. However, it did determine an unreasonable risk to human health. As a result, the EPA will now need to conduct risk management.

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What Are the Six Current Uses of Asbestos?

The six current uses of asbestos addressed in the evaluation include the use and disposal of:

  1. Diaphragms in the chlor-alkali industry
  2. Sheet gaskets in chemical production facilities
  3. Oilfield brake blocks
  4. Aftermarket automotive brakes and linings
  5. Other vehicle friction products
  6. Other gaskets

Asbestos is often used in these products for heat resistance, chemical resistance and strength. While many asbestos uses have been banned, some are still allowed in the United States. Advocates for public safety continue to push for a full ban on the carcinogen.

What Are the Health Risks of the Six Uses?

Chrysotile asbestos may cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. It is also the cause of many other asbestos cancers and diseases.

Individuals may inhale or ingest microscopic asbestos fibers. The fibers can embed in the organ linings. Victims may then develop cancer, such as pleural mesothelioma.

While the EPA’s evaluation focused on chrysotile asbestos, all types of asbestos pose a risk. 

There is also no safe amount of asbestos exposure. However, long-term exposure is more likely to cause asbestos-related diseases.

This is the case for workers handling asbestos products over extended periods of time.

Who Is at Risk?

The EPA determined there is “unreasonable risk” to:

  • Consumers: Those using asbestos products
  • Bystanders: Those facing indirect exposure to asbestos
  • Workers: Those working with the asbestos products
  • Occupational non-users: Those near, but not in direct contact with chrysotile asbestos

In recent news, asbestos has been a concern in talcum powder. Asbestos-contaminated talcum powder has also been found in cosmetics, including children’s makeup.

How Will the EPA Address Chrysotile Asbestos Risks?

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) requires the EPA to now conduct risk management for chrysotile asbestos. The EPA must finalize these actions within two years (from completion of its Final Risk Evaluation for Asbestos).

The EPA regulations may include the following requirements, limitations or prohibitions for chrysotile asbestos:

  • Manufacturing
  • Processing
  • Distribution in commerce
  • Use
  • Disposal

The EPA plans to be transparent with the public. It also plans to take the required actions to address the unreasonable risk.

Upcoming: Final Risk Evaluation for Asbestos, Part 2

The EPA plans to evaluate legacy uses and associated disposal of asbestos. Legacy uses are old uses of asbestos that still pose a risk.

Legacy uses/disposal apply to asbestos uses/disposal that are “still known, intended, or reasonably foreseen to occur.” A common example is asbestos in older buildings.

Many previous uses of asbestos (before 1979) are still a major concern. This is particularly the case for aging construction materials. These products now face damage from regular wear and tear, renovations and demolitions.

The splitting of the Final Risk Evaluations comes after the EPA received feedback for its Draft Risk Evaluation for Asbestos. The original document was released in April 2020. Feedback on this document came from the Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC), an EPA peer-review committee. The SACC expressed concern about legacy uses, as well as contaminated products such as talcum powder.