April 7, 2022

New EPA Rule Would Ban Chrysotile Asbestos

EPA on Tuesday proposed a new rule that would ban the manufacture, importation, processing, distribution in commerce, and commercial use of chrysotile asbestos, the only known form of asbestos currently imported into the United States. The proposed rule is the first to be issued through a new process that calls for EPA to evaluate and address the safety of existing chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as amended by the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act in 2016. The pre-publication copy of the proposed rule (PDF) explains that TSCA requires EPA to “address the unreasonable risks of injury to health and environment by rule and to apply requirements to the extent necessary so that chrysotile asbestos no longer presents such risks.” EPA’s proposed rule is intended to address these risks to workers and others associated with all ongoing uses of chrysotile asbestos.

Uses that pose unreasonable risks to workers include processing and industrial or commercial use of diaphragms in the chlor-alkali industry, use and disposal of aftermarket automotive brakes and linings in commercial settings, sheet gaskets used in chemical production, industrial or commercial use and disposal of brake blocks in the oil industry, and commercial use and disposal of other vehicle friction products. Most consumer products containing chrysotile asbestos have been discontinued, but products such as aftermarket automotive brakes and linings and certain gaskets remain available and pose unreasonable risks to consumers, EPA says. Further details of the agency’s risk findings related to chrysotile asbestos can be found in its December 2020 final risk evaluation.

EPA is proposing disposal and recordkeeping requirements in addition to prohibiting ongoing uses of chrysotile asbestos. According to the agency’s press release, these proposed requirements are “in line with industry standards” as well as OSHA requirements and EPA’s air toxics regulation for asbestos.

A 60-day comment period will open once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. EPA’s press release states that proposed prohibitions related to asbestos diaphragms and sheet gaskets for commercial use would take effect two years after the effective date of the final rule, while proposed prohibitions related to oilfield brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, other vehicle friction products, and other gaskets for commercial use—as well as the agency’s proposed disposal and recordkeeping requirements—would take effect 180 days following the final rule’s effective date.

EPA previously issued a final rule banning most products containing asbestos in 1989. The regulation was mostly overturned in a 1991 decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. As a result of the court’s ruling, the regulation banned only new commercial uses of asbestos in products entering the marketplace after 1989. A partial ban on asbestos-containing flooring felt, rollboard, and corrugated, commercial, or specialty paper remained in effect following the court’s decision.

A draft scope document published in December 2021 outlines EPA’s plans to evaluate legacy uses of asbestos and associated disposals, other types of asbestos fibers in addition to chrysotile, and conditions of use of asbestos in talc and talc-containing products. The agency plans to publish a final risk evaluation of these uses by December 2024.