White House announces comprehensive asbestos ban

 March 19, 2024

This week saw the Biden White House roll out a comprehensive ban on the use of chrysotile asbestos.

According to the Associated Press, the policy change was revealed on Monday by Michael Regan, who serves as director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

EPA head points to cancer risk from asbestos

"With today's ban, EPA is finally slamming the door on a chemical so dangerous that it has been banned in over 50 countries," Regan was quoted as saying.

"This historic ban is more than 30 years in the making, and it’s thanks to amendments that Congress made in 2016 to fix the Toxic Substances Control Act," he explained.

"The science is clear: Asbestos is a known carcinogen that has severe impacts on public health. This action is just the beginning as we work to protect all American families, workers and communities from toxic chemicals," Regan said.

The Associated press noted that although chrysotile asbestos use was originally banned in 1989, that rule was substantially weakened by a 1991 court decision.

Concerns raised over how ban will impact water purification

While the substance is no longer found in home insulation, it continues to be used to make brake pads and gaskets. It is also used in the production of chlorine bleach and sodium hydroxide, both which play a role in water purification.

Chlorine and sodium hydroxide producers will be given five years to phase out chrysotile asbestos use, something the EPA calls "a reasonable transition period."

Yet the Associated Press cited the American Chemistry Council as saying that a 15-year transition period would be required if chlorine and sodium hydroxide supply chain disruptions are to be avoided.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies had previously warned that an immediate ban would "almost certainly cause shortages and price increases for chlorine."

Democratic senator: U.S. "finally starting to catch up" with other countries

Scott Faber serves as senior vice president of the anti-asbestos Environmental Working Group, and he welcomed Regan's announcement.

“For too long, polluters have been allowed to make, use and release toxics like asbestos and PFAS without regard for our health,’' Faber said in a statement. "Thanks to the leadership of the Biden EPA, those days are finally over."

The EPA's move was also supported by Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, who declared that the United States is "finally starting to catch up" with other countries on how asbestos is regulated.

"However, it cannot be the end of the road when it comes to phasing out other dangerous asbestos fibers," Merkley continued before adding, "Congress has a role to play here when it comes to providing stronger protections for our health."

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