EPA: Taking Charge on Asbestos
By Alexandra Dapolito Dunn
Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention
Recently, EPA has been accused of wavering in its commitment to protect the people in our country from asbestos. This is certainly not the case. In April 2019, for the first time in 30 years, EPA strengthened safeguards related to asbestos. EPA’s new rule creates a legal framework by which EPA can restrict the use of more asbestos products or prohibit them entirely. This means that no manufacturer can revive discontinued asbestos products without first consulting EPA, which can then restrict or prohibit that use.
Prior to our April rule, asbestos products that were no longer on the market could come back without any EPA review, without any EPA restrictions, and without any opportunity for EPA to prohibit that use. In other words, previous administrations failed to take steps to ensure that certain dangerous asbestos products would not be reintroduced into the market.
Our April 2019 rule closed this dangerous loophole in the law and made sure that these products could not come back on the market without EPA review and the opportunity to restrict or prohibit use of the products. Combined with our ongoing risk evaluation of a few remaining industrial uses of asbestos, EPA is using our full suite of authorities to protect public health from domestic and imported asbestos products and ensuring we can prohibit dormant asbestos products from reentering the market.
EPA is not allowing new uses of asbestos under this rule. Quite the contrary. Those who are subject to the rule are required to notify EPA at least 90 days before commencing any manufacturing, importing, or processing of asbestos or asbestos-containing products covered under the rule. These uses are absolutely prohibited until EPA conducts a thorough review of the notice and puts in place any necessary restrictions, including prohibiting use.
Certain uses of asbestos that were prohibited in 1989 remain banned. Some people say that EPA should immediately ban all remaining asbestos products. Under TSCA, as revised by a bipartisan Congress in 2016, EPA can’t do that in one simple step. By law, with public input and scientific peer review, EPA must evaluate the risk of remaining asbestos uses before it can restrict or ban these products. And that’s exactly what we’re doing for asbestos. EPA included asbestos as one of the first 10 chemicals to undergo this risk evaluation process. This process will be open and transparent, will be available for public comment as well as for scientific peer review and will follow the timetable established by Congress.
If the Agency determines there is unreasonable risk to health or the environment from any conditions of use of asbestos we are evaluating, we are compelled by statute to take actions necessary and authorized by TSCA to ensure the use of asbestos no longer presents an unreasonable risk. These actions would be proposed within one year and finalized within two years.
EPA is covering ALL bases to be able to protect people’s health from asbestos exposure. Addressing asbestos risk remains a priority and I’m proud of the strides EPA has made in protecting the American public from asbestos exposure.
About the author: Alexandra Dapolito Dunn is the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Prior to that she served as the Regional Administrator for EPA Region 1, and her responsibilities included overseeing the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and ten tribal nations. Read more.
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