The Environmental Protection Agency is tightening its regulation on the manufacture and import of asbestos, almost completely banning its use in the United States.
The federal agency announced on Wednesday that its Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) aims to limit the access of industrial companies to asbestos by requiring them to seek EPA approval first before they could locally manufacture or import the dangerous substance from outside the country.
Many safety advocates doubted the proposed rule's ability to curb the continued use of asbestos. However, the EPA said the SNUR is its best shot at regulating the material, especially since the agency does not have authority to outright ban its use.
The SNUR also addresses loopholes in the EPA's prior restrictions on asbestos use, which have been in place for several decades.
"We had a very dangerous loophole that we had not addressed," said Alexandra Dunn, EPA assistant administrator on chemical regulation.
"We're essentially closing the door on these products. We are making sure they cannot come into the marketplace without action from the EPA."
The EPA's Near Complete Ban Of Asbestos Use
When the SNUR was first proposed last summer, it was criticized for its provisions on allowing asbestos makers and importers to apply for an EPA permit. Safety advocates also raised concerns that the proposal construed the prohibited uses of the material.
The agency had received "extensive" feedback from several groups regarding the SNUR, and it had decided to expand its scope. The proposal now includes all uses of asbestos, even those that are not currently taking place.
American Chemistry Council, an industry trade association consisting of chemical companies, has expressed its support of the EPA's SNUR, claiming that the proposal will help the agency better regulate asbestos use.
Requests for ban exceptions will have to go through rigorous safety review, regulation, and restrictions, according to the ACC.
Meanwhile, former EPA official Gary Timm welcomed the agency's final rule, calling it as a positive move by the agency under the Trump administration.
He said the EPA should now work toward declaring a complete ban on asbestos use.
Despite the SNUR announcement, some advocacy groups were still not convinced that the EPA has done enough to address the issue.
Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, a nonprofit group that looks after the rights of mesothelioma victims, said the agency's proposal was "deeply disappointing". It is now urging the U.S. Congress to step in and declare a complete ban on the dangerous material.
Dunn pointed out that the EPA is already looking into current uses of asbestos, which could lead to additional restrictions on the substance. She said several laws and regulations are already in place pertaining the processing and clean-up of structures built using asbestos.
Dangers Of Using Asbestos
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that naturally occurs in soil and rock, according to the EPA. Construction companies have used its fiber strength and heat resistance to produce insulation and fire retardants for buildings.
The material is commonly found in paper products, roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, and fire-resistant cement. It is also used as part of heat-resistant fabrics and friction products, including car brakes, clutches, and transmission parts.
Exposure to asbestos in the air can result in a number of health risk, particularly to lung disease. The longer people are exposed to the substance, the more likely they are to develop serious illnesses.
Three of the most common diseases associated with asbestos are:
- Lung cancer
Asbestosis is a serious progressive, non-cancer lung disease, where it can often take 10 to 40 years before the illness manifests in patients. Its symptoms include shortness of breath, dry cough, weight loss due to a loss of appetite, and chest tightness or pain.
The illness can also result in a condition known as clubbing, where the fingertips and toes appear rounder and wider than normal.
Patients diagnosed with asbestosis can worsen their health condition if they engage in smoking. This could cause them to develop lung cancer.