The United States of Asbestos: Restrictions Instead of a Ban

Days after Andrew Wheeler testified before a congressional committee that he would ban the current use of asbestos, his Environmental Protection Agency instead announced newly tightened restrictions on the carcinogenic mineral.

It wasn’t the ban many were looking for.

The agency’s journey to this destination began three years ago under a previous presidential administration. A 2016 amendment to the Toxic Substance Control Act mandated that the EPA develop a process to regulate asbestos and continually re-evaluate the damage done by toxic materials.

The EPA is touting the rules as the strictest imposed in the agency’s history, moving the needle just short of a ban. Regulators will now have the authority to stop asbestos products from entering and re-entering the U.S. market. Companies wishing to import and manufacture asbestos products must undergo a thorough risk evaluation.

Specific products include:

  • Adhesives
  • Sealants
  • Roofing felt
  • Millboard
  • Pipeline wrap
  • Reinforced plastics
  • Vinyl-asbestos floor tile

What a government agency considers significant progress, if not “closing a door,” asbestos victims’ advocacy groups see as new rules that are rife will loopholes and failing to provide much-needed protections. Linda Reinstein, president of Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, has one word to describe it.

Toothless.

Simply put, the legal importation of raw asbestos remains in place. A U.S. Geological Survey Mineral Commodity Summaries report claims that 2017 saw 300 pounds alone brought into the United States. Imports continue in the face of 40,000 deaths of Americans annually from asbestos-related diseases, according to Reinstein’s organization.

Even more simply put, the United States remains a non-member of a 60-nation coalition that is baring their teeth with outright bans on asbestos in any form.

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