EPA Bans Chrysotile Asbestos In a Historic Milestone for the US’ Chemical Safety Efforts

March 19, 2024

Octfolio Team

On the 18th of March, 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced a final rule prohibiting the ongoing use of chrysotile asbestos, the sole form of asbestos currently permitted for use or importation in the United States. 

This ban on ongoing asbestos usage represents the first rule enacted under the 2016 amendments to the country's chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The amendments garnered widespread support in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.

Where was chrysotile asbestos being used in the US?

The chlor-alkali industry utilises asbestos diaphragms in the production of sodium hydroxide and chlorine, crucial for disinfecting drinking water and wastewater. While there are alternative methods for water disinfection and chlorine production, with two-thirds of U.S. chlorine production already asbestos-free, only eight chlor-alkali plants in the country continue using asbestos diaphragms. The EPA is tasked with ensuring these facilities transition away from asbestos use without compromising water purification efforts.

What does the ban entail?

To permanently eliminate asbestos use in the chlor-alkali sector, EPA is immediately halting asbestos importation. The remaining eight facilities must shift to non-asbestos diaphragms or non-asbestos membrane technology. The final rule mandates that six of these facilities complete this transition within five years, with the remaining two following suit thereafter.

Why does the ban involve a five year transition period?

EPA's decision to require a five-year transition period for eliminating asbestos diaphragms balances the need for a reasonable timeframe and the urgency of discontinuing asbestos use in water purification. 

Transitioning to non-asbestos membrane technology presents challenges such as extensive construction, additional permits, specialised expertise, and limited suppliers for parts. 

Consequently, EPA allows a five-year period for the first facility conversion, eight years for the second, and 12 years for the third for companies transitioning multiple facilities, with ongoing progress certification to EPA.

What are the other key provisions of the chrysotile asbestos ban?

The final rule includes the following key provisions:

  • The prohibition of most sheet gaskets containing asbestos two years after the final rule's effective date, with five-year phase-outs for specific uses such as titanium dioxide production and nuclear material processing.
  • Permission for the continued use of asbestos-containing sheet gaskets at the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site until CY 2037, ensuring safe nuclear material disposal while safeguarding workers from radioactive exposure.
  • The ban of asbestos in oilfield brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, vehicle friction products, and other gaskets six months after the final rule's effective date.
  • The implementation of stringent workplace safety measures during phase-out periods exceeding two years to protect workers from asbestos exposure. EPA ensures proper asbestos disposal per industry standards, Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements, and Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants, with mandated recordkeeping.

Additionally, EPA is conducting an evaluation of various asbestos fibres beyond chrysotile and asbestos-containing talc in part 2 of the asbestos risk assessment. The agency plans to release the draft risk evaluation's second part soon and aims to publish the final risk evaluation by December 1, 2024.

What is chrysotile asbestos? 

Chrysotile asbestos is the most commonly used type of asbestos mineral. Chrysotile fibres are curly and flexible, which made them suitable for various industrial applications. 

However, it was eventually discovered that exposure to chrysotile asbestos could pose serious health risks, including lung diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Due to its hazardous nature, many countries have imposed restrictions or bans on the use of chrysotile asbestos.

Is chrysotile asbestos banned in Australia?

As of December 2003, Australia has imposed a complete ban on asbestos.

Under Australian law, the import and export of asbestos or asbestos-containing goods are strictly prohibited, with only rare exceptions granted under specific circumstances with authorised permission.

As the Australian Border Force (ABF) regulates the import and export of goods, you can find out everything you need to know about the procedures and legal ramifications surrounding goods that contain asbestos at their website.

What should I do if I suspect my home or workplace contains asbestos?

If you suspect that your home or workplace contains asbestos, it's crucial to take immediate action to ensure your safety and the safety of others. Here are steps you should consider taking:

  • Do Not Disturb the Material: Avoid touching, disturbing, or trying to remove any materials that you suspect may contain asbestos. Disturbing asbestos-containing materials can release fibres into the air, increasing the risk of exposure.
  • Contact a Licensed Asbestos Assessor: Reach out to a licensed asbestos assessor or professional asbestos removalist to conduct an inspection and asbestos testing if necessary. These professionals have the expertise and equipment to safely assess the presence of asbestos and determine the appropriate course of action.
  • Follow Professional Advice: Based on the assessment results, follow the advice and recommendations provided by the licensed asbestos assessor or removalist. This may include implementing containment measures, conducting asbestos removal, or managing the asbestos-containing materials in place if removal is not immediately necessary.
  • Notify Relevant Authorities: If asbestos is confirmed in your workplace, notify your employer or building management immediately. They should take appropriate steps to address the issue and ensure compliance with asbestos regulations and guidelines.
  • Regular Monitoring: If asbestos-containing materials are managed in place rather than removed, establish a regular monitoring and maintenance plan to ensure they remain intact and do not pose a risk of fibre release.

How can companies track the removal of asbestos in the wake of this ban?

According to Asbestos Software Specialist Sebastian Tiller, “It all comes down to meticulous record keeping, documentation, and evidence. This will involve requiring clear material declarations from suppliers, implementing chain of custody tracking, and potentially auditing supplier practices and existing supplied materials.” 

Tiller also adds that “Companies may also need to test incoming materials and invest in finding safe substitutes. The EPA's upcoming regulations will provide further guidance, but ultimately, robust documentation and a focus on verifiable asbestos-free materials will be essential for companies navigating this.”

Explanation of key terms

  • Clear Material Declarations: This means getting clear information from suppliers about whether the materials they provide contain asbestos. It helps businesses make informed choices about how to handle and use these materials safely.
  • Chain of Custody Tracking: This involves keeping a record of how materials, especially those with asbestos, are handled and moved from one place to another. It helps ensure that materials are managed properly and not mishandled or accessed without authorisation.
  • Asbestos Auditing: This is about checking and assessing the risks and compliance related to asbestos in a facility. It includes inspecting materials, testing for asbestos, reviewing management practices, and making sure the facility follows regulations.
  • Asbestos Documentation: This refers to keeping detailed records of all asbestos-related activities, including material declarations, tracking records, audit reports, testing results, and compliance documents. Good documentation is important for showing that regulations are being followed and for keeping track of asbestos-related work.

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