WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) – The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule Tuesday to ban asbestos, a carcinogen that is still used in some chlorine bleach, brake pads and other products and kills thousands of Americans each year. .
The proposal marks a major expansion of EPA regulation under a landmark 2016 law that changed the rules governing thousands of toxic chemicals in everyday products, from household cleaners to clothing and furniture.
The proposed rule would ban chrysotile asbestos, the only ongoing use of asbestos in the United States. This substance is found in products such as brake linings and gaskets, and is used to manufacture chlorine bleach and sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan called the rule an important step to protect public health and “finally end the use of hazardous asbestos in the United States.”
Regan said, the proposed ban “reflects significant progress in our work to enforce the (2016) law and take bold, long-overdue action to protect the most vulnerable among us.”
The 2016 law authorized new regulations for thousands of toxic chemicals found in everyday products, including substances such as asbestos and trichlorethylene, which have been known to cause cancer for decades, yet remain largely under federal law. were irregular. Known as the Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, the law was intended to clear a plethora of state regulations governing chemicals and to update the Toxic Substances Control Act, 1976 legislation that had been unchanged for 40 years.
The EPA banned asbestos in 1989, but this rule was largely reversed by a 1991 court decision, which called for the removal of risks to human health from asbestos or other existing chemicals under the TSCA. The authority of the EPA was undermined. The 2016 law requires that the EPA evaluate chemicals and provide protection against undue exposure.
At the signing ceremony for the new law, then-President Barack Obama said that the US chemical system under TSCA was “so complex, so cumbersome that our country is not even capable of banning asbestos. I think a lot of Americans do all this.” Would be surprised.”
Asbestos, which was once common in home insulation and other products, is banned in more than 50 countries and its use in the US has been declining for decades. The only form of asbestos currently imported, processed or distributed for use in the US is chrysotile asbestos, which is imported primarily from Brazil and Russia. It is used by the chlor-alkali industry, which produces bleach, caustic soda, and other products.
Most consumer products that historically contained chrysotile asbestos have been discontinued.
While chlorine is a commonly used disinfectant in water treatment, there are only 10 chlor-alkali plants in the US that still use asbestos diaphragms to produce chlorine and sodium hydroxide. The plants are mostly located in Louisiana and Texas.
The EPA said the use of asbestos diaphragms is declining and now accounts for about a third of chlor-alkali production in the US.
The American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group for the chemical industry, rejected the EPA proposal, saying it could significantly harm America’s drinking water supply by depleting domestic supplies of chlorine.
About 98% of public drinking water treatment facilities use some form of chlorine-based disinfectant, the group said, adding that the supply chain disruptions experienced by water utilities over the years “highlight the critical importance of chlorine for water disinfection.” is inserted.”
The group said chlorine is also used in the production of batteries, windmills and solar panels.
The proposed ban will take effect two years after the effective date of the final rule.
In addition to addressing the significant human health impacts of chrysotile asbestos exposure, the proposed rule is also expected to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions associated with chlor-alkali production, an energy-intensive industrial operation.
Linda Reinstein, co-founder and president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, called the EPA rule “an important step forward” but added that “more work needs to be done to prevent exposure to asbestos and protect Americans.” The husband, Allen, who died of mesothelioma, called on Congress to approve a bill in her husband’s name that bans asbestos altogether.
“We still need Congress to take steps to protect all Allen,” he said in an interview.