WASHINGTON – Today the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it is proposing a rule to ban ongoing uses of chrysotile asbestos. This is also the first rule the agency has proposed under the revised Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, that was enacted in 2016.
The Environmental Working Group praised the move. “Asbestos has long been the poster child for our broken chemical regulatory system. Far too many lives have been lost to unnecessary exposure to this deadly substance,” said Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney at EWG. “This proposed rule represents a major step forward under the new Toxic Substances Control Act and will save lives.”
The EPA first tried to ban asbestos in 1989 using authority in the original TSCA enacted in 1976. However, most uses asbestos have remained legal since the agency lost a court challenge to the ban in 1991. As a result of that ruling and new burdens it created for regulation, the EPA largely stopped trying to regulate existing chemicals under the original version of TSCA. Concerns over continued legal uses of asbestos was a major driving force behind the 2016 TSCA overhaul.
The EPA began reviewing the safety of asbestos in 2016 after enactment of the new TSCA. In 2017, the Trump EPA tried to narrow the scope of its analysis of asbestos by ignoring exposures from phased-out, or “legacy”, uses of asbestos. EWG and other advocates challenged this practice and in 2019 the EPA was ordered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to address both legacy and ongoing uses of asbestos.
The proposed rule is limited to ongoing uses of asbestos based on the EPA’s evaluation of non-legacy uses. The proposed rule is also limited to one type of asbestos, chrysotile. The EPA is in the process of drafting a supplemental safety evaluation in accordance with the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, which could lead to additional regulatory actions addressing legacy uses, asbestos contamination in other minerals like talc, and different types of asbestos fibers.
“Today’s action is a much-needed step towards protecting Americans from ongoing uses of asbestos,” added Benesh, “but more work is needed to ensure Americans are protected from all forms of asbestos exposure. We look forward to working with the EPA to address continued risks from legacy uses, asbestos-contaminated talc, and other asbestos fibers.”
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.