The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is taking action to protect people from asbestos exposure by releasing a proposed rule to prohibit ongoing uses of the only known form of asbestos currently imported into the United States. This proposed rule is the first-ever risk management rule issued under the new process for evaluating and addressing the safety of existing chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that was enacted in 2016.
The proposed rule would ban chrysotile asbestos, the only known form of asbestos currently imported into the United States, which is found in products like asbestos diaphragms, sheet gaskets, brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes/linings, other vehicle friction products, and other gaskets also imported into the country.
The rule has the potential to impact the water industry. Chlor-alkali chemicals are used in operations that can help protect human health such as drinking water treatment, which uses chlorine manufactured through the chlor-alkali process. While chlorine is a commonly used disinfectant in water treatment, there are only 10 chlor-alkali plants in the U.S. still using asbestos diaphragms to produce chlorine and sodium hydroxide. One of those plants is expected to close this year. The nine remaining chlor-alkali plants using asbestos diaphragms range in age from 40 to 123 years old, and none have increased use of asbestos diaphragms in approximately 17 years. The use of asbestos diaphragms has been declining, and the remaining plants only account for about one-third of the chlor-alkali production in the country. Alternatives to asbestos-containing diaphragms for chlor-alkali plants exist, and the use of alternatives, specifically membrane cells, accounts for almost half of the country’s chlor-alkali production.
The proposed rule would prohibit the manufacture, import, processing, distribution in commerce, and commercial use of chrysotile asbestos for six categories of chrysotile asbestos-containing products: asbestos diaphragms, sheet gaskets, oilfield brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, other vehicle friction products, and other gaskets.
The proposed prohibition on the manufacture, processing, and distribution in commerce will also address consumer exposure to chrysotile asbestos. The prohibitions relating to asbestos diaphragms and sheet gaskets for commercial use are proposed to take effect two years after the effective date of the final rule. The proposed prohibitions relating to oilfield brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, other vehicle friction products, and other gaskets for commercial use are proposed to take effect 180 days after the effective date of the final rule.
Separately, USEPA is also evaluating legacy uses and associated disposals, other types of asbestos fibers in addition to chrysotile, and conditions of use of asbestos in talc and talc-containing products in a supplemental risk evaluation for asbestos. USEPA released the draft scope for the second part of the asbestos risk evaluation in December 2021 and will publish the final risk evaluation by December 1, 2024.
The USEPA is accepting public comments on the proposed rule for chrysotile asbestos through June 13, 2022, via docket EPA-HQ-OPPT-2021-0057.