April 18, 2024

Draft Risk Evaluation of Asbestos Addresses Legacy Uses, Disposals

EPA has preliminarily determined that disturbing and handling asbestos associated with legacy uses presents “unreasonable risk” to human health, the agency explains in a new draft risk evaluation published this week. The draft represents the second part of EPA’s risk evaluation of asbestos; part one, which was completed in December 2020, focused only on chrysotile asbestos. The newly published part two focuses on legacy uses and associated disposals of asbestos; other types of asbestos fibers in addition to chrysotile such as crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, actinolite, and Libby Amphibole Asbestos (and its tremolite, winchite, and richterite constituents); and conditions of use of asbestos-containing talc.

Examples of legacy uses include asbestos contained in construction materials like floor and ceiling tiles, pipe wrap, and insulation in some older homes. Most exposures occur when people handle or damage asbestos-containing material in a way that releases fibers into the air, EPA says. Those most at risk for exposure include construction workers involved in demolition and others who regularly cut, sand, or grind asbestos-containing material. The agency stresses that firefighters may also be at risk due to the potential of fires and other emergencies to disturb asbestos-containing material in buildings. Take-home exposures and exposures related to do-it-yourself projects present additional concerns for workers’ families and for the public.

Part two of EPA’s risk evaluation for asbestos also includes a draft single risk determination that asbestos as a whole chemical poses unreasonable risk to human health. According to the agency, the “draft determination does not alter any of the underlying technical or scientific information that informs the risk characterization” in the first part of its risk evaluation for asbestos. The draft determination addresses the conditions of use evaluated in both parts of EPA’s risk evaluation for asbestos and would replace previous unreasonable risk determinations for individual conditions of use.

This supplemental effort to part one of EPA’s risk evaluation for asbestos stems from a decision (PDF) issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 2019 in the case Safer Chemicals Healthy Families v. EPA, which challenged the agency’s prioritization and risk evaluation rules under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

“Under the previous Administration, EPA narrowed the scope of the TSCA risk evaluation for asbestos by only reviewing ongoing uses and excluding legacy uses and disposals,” EPA’s news release explains. “[The] court ruled that the agency unlawfully excluded ‘legacy uses’ and ‘associated disposal’ from TSCA’s definition of ‘conditions of use,’ resulting in the need to supplement [EPA’s] initial review of asbestos (‘part 1’) with a ‘part 2’ risk evaluation.”

In addition, a 2021 consent decree in the case Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization et al v. Regan et al in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California requires EPA to complete this second part of its final asbestos risk evaluation by Dec. 1, 2024.

A comment period for the public to provide input on the draft of part two of EPA’s asbestos risk evaluation is open until June 17, 2024. The agency specifically encourages feedback related to take-home exposure scenarios, non-cancer endpoints used to characterize risk, and its draft single risk determination for asbestos.

The draft risk evaluation and supporting documents can be found on EPA’s webpage for part two of the asbestos risk evaluation. Further details and instructions for submitting comments are available in the Federal Register.

Related: In March 2024, EPA finalized a ban on the manufacture, importation, processing, distribution in commerce, and commercial use of chrysotile asbestos. A viewpoint column published in the October 2023 issue of The Synergist provides an international perspective on asbestos restrictions.