Published On: Thu, Jul 25th, 2019

Could the U.S. Move Toward a Total Ban on Asbestos?

The U.S. government’s new rule on asbestos has been bashed by critics, but some are speculating whether the country will be moving toward a total ban on the substance.

The criticized rule, laid out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), went into effect in June and was reportedly designed to strengthen public health protections. However, two government officials claim that the rule does nothing to tackle the issue of continued asbestos use in the U.S.

Critics have been calling for an outright ban on asbestos, which would put the U.S. in a group of 60 other countries that have already banned the substance. But a total ban may very well be in the future, as a new bill has been put before Congress. 

The “Ban Asbestos Now” Act

The Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2019 was introduced in March 7, 2019 which would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to prohibit the manufacturing, processing and distribution of commercial asbestos as well as asbestos-containing mixtures and articles used for other purposes.

According to Vogelzang Law, the TSCA was initially passed to allow the EPA to monitor the development, use and disposal of dangerous substances, including asbestos. The “Ban Asbestos Now” Act would amend this law to effectively ban asbestos.

Linda Reinstein, wife of the late Alan Reinstein, says the bill has received bipartisan support, and she’s optimistic about its chances of passing.

Under the proposed bill, the EPA, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Labor Department would also be required to conduct a comprehensive report that would assess the “presence of asbestos in residential, commercial, industrial, public, and school buildings” as well as “the extent of exposure and risk to human health associated with the asbestos present in such buildings.”

The EPA’s Previously Failed Asbestos Ban

This isn’t the first time there’s been an effort to ban asbestos. In 1989, the EPA announced its plan to ban the substance, but its efforts failed.

The agency had spent ten years and $10 million in producing a 100,000-page administrative record detailing evidence that even a single exposure to asbestos could cause cancer. The EPA said it would use its authority under the TSCA to ban virtually all products containing the dangerous substance.

However, the EPA’s announcement was met with staunch opposition from corporations that used asbestos as well as trade groups in the chemical industry. Together, they filed a lawsuit claiming that the ban would be too costly, and that the alternatives were neither more effective nor safer than asbestos. 

The Fifth Court of Appeals ruled against the EPA in 1991. Because of that decision, many uses of asbestos remain legal, and the EPA has had a more difficult time banning any chemical.

Since 1989, more than one million people in the U.S. has died from asbestos-caused diseases, and 15,000 Americans continue to die from asbestos-linked diseases each year.

In 2018 alone, the U.S. imported nearly 750 metric tons of asbestos, and most of it comes from Russia – one of the world’s top asbestos producers.


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