EPA proposes rule that would ban most uses of asbestos in the US

If you read that headline with some surprise, it’s probably because you thought asbestos was already banned in the U.S. After all, scientists have known for decades that exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma or asbestos lung cancer, both of which are deadly. The Environmental Protection Agency has long said there is no safe level of exposure to the mineral fiber.

Indeed, the EPA tried to ban asbestos altogether in 1989, but a federal court ruled in 1991 that the agency didn’t have the authority. The EPA was attempting to use its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, but the federal court nixed that.

Then, in 2016, Congress passed the Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act. The new law requires the EPA to evaluate all chemicals used in the United States and propose protections against any that pose unreasonable risks.

Asbestos exposure is still happening today

Asbestos certainly poses an unreasonable risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 2,500 people die of mesothelioma every year and, as of 2015, the death rate among those who have mesothelioma is actually rising. This is true for all demographic groups under the age of 85. At the same time, the CDC found evidence that people continue to inhale asbestos fibers from substances that still exist in our environment today.

Over time, the use of asbestos has declined in the U.S. However, asbestos is still legal here and is used in various products including for insulation in vehicle braking systems. Moreover, asbestos was widely used in building construction until at least the late 70s and may still be found in many buildings built before then. That can expose home remodeling contractors, do-it-yourselfers, firefighters and others to previously-installed asbestos.

Is asbestos necessary?

Now that the EPA has proposed banning asbestos, the chemical industry is on the move. The American Chemistry Council, an industry lobbying group, has said the ban would put America’s drinking water supply at risk.

This is because about 98% of all public water treatment system in the U.S. rely on ​chlorine-based disinfectant. If the asbestos diaphragms used to produce some chlorine bleaches are banned, the group argues, it could cause supply chain disruptions.

The American Chemistry Council also claims chlorine is needed for manufacturing windmills, solar panels and batteries, which are needed for America’s infrastructure.

However, according to the Associated Press, only 10 plants remain in the U.S. that still use those asbestos diaphragms to produce chlorine.

When will the ban go into effect?

The EPA’s proposed ban ​still must go through the federal rulemaking process. That basically involves a period of public comment, a period of further review based on those comments, and possible revisions of the proposed rule. Ultimately, if the rule becomes a regulation, it will take effect two years after the rule’s final version is passed. If it reaches that point though, legal challenges may further delay, or even prevent, its actual implementation or enforcement.

People diagnosed with mesothelioma or asbestos lung cancer deserve legal help

Just because asbestos remains legal for some purposes does not mean it is safe. It also doesn’t mean you can’t complain about being exposed to it. Many manufacturers, suppliers, employers, mining companies, railyards, shipyards, mines, energy companies and others knowingly exposed their workers and customers to asbestos even after knowing it was dangerous. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, talk to a lawyer experienced in handling these cases about your legal rights and options.

Skip to content