WASHINGTON (CN) — The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new rule Tuesday that would ban the import and use of white asbestos, a carcinogen still used in brake pads, certain types of chlorine bleach and other car parts.
Most consumer products that use the heat-resistant mineral have been discontinued. But white asbestos, also known as chrysotile asbestos, has remained in use despite its links to the deaths of thousands of Americans every year. It’s the only form of asbestos still imported to the United States, a fact the EPA is moving to change.
The proposed rule, which would ban the use of white asbestos two years after its implementation, expands an Obama-era law known as the Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, which overhauled regulations on the use of toxic chemicals in consumer products.
“Today, we’re taking an important step forward to protect public health and finally put an end to the use of dangerous asbestos in the United States,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement announcing the rule change.
Regan called the rule change “long-overdue actions to protect those most vulnerable among us.”
The EPA largely banned the use of asbestos back in 1989 through the Toxic Substances Control Act, but that victory was short lived. Asbestos companies challenged the regulations and a federal appeals court overturned much of the legislation in 1991, leaving only a narrow space for banning the use of the cancer-causing material in specific circumstances, such as in insulation.
In 2016, then-President Barack Obama commented on the difficulty of banning asbestos despite scientific evidence linking it to cancer diagnoses.
“The system was so complex, it was so burdensome that our country hasn’t even been able to uphold a ban on asbestos — a known carcinogen that kills as many as 10,000 Americans every year. I think a lot of Americans would be shocked by all that,” Obama said in 2016.
The EPA’s new rule bans the import and processing of six types of products made with white asbestos, the most common form of the material still used in the U.S. It’s used by the chlor-alkali industry to produce bleach and sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda.
Only 10 chlor-alkali plants that use this type of asbestos to produce their products are still running in the United States, according to the EPA; one is set to close this year. The remaining plants are primarily situated in Louisiana and Texas in communities that struggle with pollution and disproportionately high cancer rates.
The agency says the rule would improve air quality, considering the high level of greenhouse gas emissions that result from chlor-alkali production.
Bans on asbestos are common worldwide. Nearly 70 countries barring the use of the heat and corrosion resistant material that was once used in everything from makeup and clothing to construction products.
Inhaling asbestos fibers has been linked to cancer and can cause the lung disease known as asbestosis.
The EPA is also evaluating the risks of other types of asbestos and talc products that contain asbestos, but the agency has to undergo an study that will take until 2024 to complete before it can propose additional changes to asbestos regulation.Follow @@rosemwagner
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.