The EPA has banned the use of chrysotile asbestos after decades of partial restrictions

On March 18, 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a final rule (Rule) to prohibit the use of chrysotile asbestos, the only known form of asbestos that is currently being imported, processed, distributed, and used in the United States.  This is the first rule to be finalized under the 2016 amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act and marks the first time in United States history that a ban has targeted a specific asbestos mineral.   Previous bans imposed by EPA targeted either asbestos-containing products/building materials or product applications. Asbestos generally refers to a group of fibrous minerals that occur naturally in the environment, however, chrysotile is the only asbestos mineral known to be imported, processed, or distributed for use in the United States.  The chrysotile mineral fibers are strong and flexible enough to be spun and woven and are heat resistant, properties that historically made it attractive for use in building materials and insulation.  Exposure to asbestos is known to cause lung diseases, such as asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma, as well as other cancers.  The United States will now join a group of over 50 countries that have banned the use of chrysotile asbestos.

The new rule targets asbestos containing materials (ACMs) that were not subject to the existing ACM bans.   Products targeted by the new Rule include asbestos diaphragms, sheet gaskets, oilfield brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes/linings, and other vehicle friction products and gaskets. Compliance deadlines to transition away from chrysotile asbestos use are industry specific and designed to be as soon as practicable while providing a reasonable transition period.   Industry specific phase-out periods range from six months for the brake manufacturing industry to twelve years for chlor-alkali chemical companies with three or more facilities. The final rule will also enact strict restrictions on industries that require more than a two-year phase-out period.

It is a common misconception that buildings constructed after the 1989 partial ban on ACM do not contain asbestos when in fact many existing buildings and homes in the United States contain ACM. Per the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), prior to a demolition or renovation of a structure, building or installation, an asbestos survey must be conducted to determine the presence or absence of ACM. Because the date of the building’s construction and/or renovation does not mean that the building is free of asbestos, it is important to evaluate buildings for asbestos prior to disturbing potential ACM to prevent worker and public exposure. The EPA plans to address legacy asbestos and other asbestos mineral types, including asbestos in talc, in a part two of their risk evaluation of asbestos, which they plan to release as a draft risk evaluation in December of 2024.

The final Rule was published in the Federal Register on March 28, 2024, and will take effect on May 28, 2024.  View the rule posted in the Federal Register and the EPA press release discussing the finalized rule.  Additional information regarding asbestos can be found on the EPA and Center for Disease Control websites.

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