EPA Prepares for Asbestos Risk Management

Asbestos // March 4, 2021
EPA Prepares for Asbestos Risk Management

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been studying the current risks of asbestos to the public and environment. It focused on chrysotile asbestos, in particular. The EPA shared its findings in the Final Risk Evaluation for Asbestos, Part 1: Chrysotile Asbestos.

The EPA determined chrysotile asbestos presents unreasonable risks to the public. All six uses studied by the agency were deemed unreasonable risks. Now, the EPA must take action for risk management. To begin this process, it held a webinar open to public comment.

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What Is Risk Management?

Once unreasonable risks are identified, they must be addressed. Unreasonable risks may be to the public and/or to the environment.

Risk management is a requirement under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The TSCA aims to regulate newly introduced chemicals or chemicals already in use. Asbestos falls under this act and is subject to risk management requirements.

Risks of asbestos exposure include the development of mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and other serious asbestos illnesses.

There are several ways the EPA can address risk management. It may require labeled warnings for consumers, or, it may extend to a complete ban. The EPA stresses the importance of input from key stakeholders when making final decisions.

What Does Risk Management Look Like for Asbestos?

The EPA will address unreasonable risks to the public through all six uses of chrysotile asbestos. The sixes current uses of chrysotile asbestos under scrutiny are:

  1. Processing and industrial use in asbestos diaphragms (chlor-alkali industry)
  2. Processing and industrial use in asbestos sheet gaskets (chemical production)
  3. Industrial use and disposal of asbestos brake blocks (oil industry)
  4. Commercial use, consumer use and disposal of asbestos brakes or linings (aftermarket automotive industry)
  5. Commercial use and disposal of other asbestos vehicle friction products
  6. Commercial, consumer use and disposal of other asbestos gaskets

To target the risk of these uses, the EPA may prohibit, limit, regulate or restrict:

  • Manufacture, processing or distribution in commerce
  • Manufacture, processing or distribution in commerce for certain uses or in certain concentrations
  • Manner or method of commercial use
  • Manner or method of disposal by certain individuals

The EPA may also:

  • Require minimum warnings and instructions about use, distribution and disposal
  • Require recordkeeping, testing and monitoring
  • Direct manufacturers and processors to notify distributors, users and the public of unreasonable risk
  • Direct manufacturers and processors to replace or repurchase

The range of options varies greatly. Since the late 1970s, the dangers of asbestos have become more and more well-known. After 1979, restrictions were placed to limit asbestos use in the United States. However, any amount of exposure is dangerous and could lead to asbestos illnesses.

Public Urges for a Complete Ban on Asbestos

Several organizations and individuals have called for a full asbestos ban. The EPA held a public webinar in early February 2021: Risk Evaluation and Risk Management for Asbestos, Part 1: Chrysotile Asbestos under TSCA Section 6. During this webinar, participants were invited to share a short comment.

Those who chose to comment came from a variety of backgrounds. Some spoke on behalf of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO). Another spoke from the chlor-alkali industry.

Most individuals shared strong concerns about asbestos risks. They felt the EPA has not adequately identified the risks of asbestos. They also felt the only acceptable method of risk management was a complete ban. Concerns apply not only current uses of asbestos, but also legacy uses.

Legacy uses of asbestos are old products/applications that are still in use today. For example, buildings constructed before 1980 likely contain asbestos materials. Though these asbestos materials may not be manufactured today, they are still in use and pose a risk as they age.

What Comes Next for Asbestos Risk Management?

The EPA will review risk management options. It will also consider public comments and input from key stakeholders.

The EPA then must issue a TSCA section 6(a) rule. This comes after its risk evaluation and unreasonable risk findings. It must issue the rule within two years, with:

  • A proposed rule one year after the risk evaluation
  • A final rule two years after the risk evaluation

Advocates for an asbestos ban urge the EPA to take action quickly. Asbestos exposure continues to cause thousands of mesothelioma diagnoses and deaths in the United States, each year. Stricter asbestos regulations, and an asbestos ban, could help improve incidence and mortality rates.