March 21, 2024

EPA Finalizes Chrysotile Asbestos Ban

This week, EPA announced a final rule that will prohibit 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 rule is the first to be finalized 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 final rule (PDF) explains that TSCA requires EPA to “address to the extent necessary the unreasonable risk of injury to health presented by chrysotile asbestos based on the risks posed by certain conditions of use.” One example of an ongoing use that will be phased out under the new rule is the use of asbestos diaphragms in the chlor-alkali sector to make sodium hydroxide and chlorine for disinfecting drinking water and wastewater. The rule also bans the use of asbestos in sheet gaskets, brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, and other vehicle friction products.

EPA’s rule immediately bans the import of asbestos for chlor-alkali use but allows time for chlor-alkali plants that use asbestos diaphragms to transition to using non-asbestos diaphragms or non-asbestos membrane technology. Eight facilities in the U.S. will need to make changes. EPA expects five of the facilities to convert to using non-asbestos diaphragms within five years. Three other facilities transitioning to non-asbestos membrane technology are expected to complete changes within five to 12 years, and EPA will require affected companies to certify their continued progress toward eliminating asbestos.

Most asbestos-containing sheet gaskets will be banned two years after the effective date of the final rule, while bans related to oilfield brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, other vehicle friction products, and other gaskets will take effect six months following the final rule’s effective date. The rule carves out a couple of exceptions related to sheet gaskets: those used to produce titanium dioxide and for the processing of nuclear material will be phased out over five years, and the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site will be allowed to continue using them through 2037. According to EPA, asbestos-containing sheet gaskets are used to ensure the safe disposal of nuclear materials at the Savannah River Site.

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.

Further information about the new chrysotile asbestos ban can be found on EPA’s website and in the agency’s news release.

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 draft risk evaluation of these uses soon and intends to finalize the risk evaluation by December 2024.