Biden Administration Calls for Asbestos Ban
The United States is the only G7 country and one of only two member states of The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development not to have banned the import, manufacture, sale and use of chrysotile (white) asbestos.1 The failure to ban asbestos in the United States is wrote Drs. Richard Lemen and Philip Landrigan a national scandal and an affront to morality and human decency.2
Unfortunately, one of the most dynamic steps to ban asbestos in the US3 collapsed in the face of fierce resistance from US and foreign vested interests who mounted a legal attack on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)s 1989 Asbestos Ban and Phase-out Rule. This attempt to protect Americans from carcinogenic exposures was quashed in 1991 by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.4
On April 5, 2022, the EPA issued a press release headlined: EPA Proposes to Ban Ongoing Uses of Asbestos, Taking Historic Step to Protect People from Cancer Risk in which EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan wrote:
Today, were taking an important step forward to protect public health and finally put an end to the use of dangerous asbestos in the United States This historic proposed ban would protect the American people from exposure to chrysotile asbestos, a known carcinogen, and demonstrates significant progress in our work to implement the TSCA [Toxic Substances Control Act] law and take bold, long-overdue actions to protect those most vulnerable among us.5
The text of the press release documented a variety of issues such as the changing legislative landscape, specific products which would be prohibited, the use of chrysotile by the chlor-alkali industry and the EPAs revitalized determination to prevent air pollution, increase chemical safety, safeguard consumers rights and secure environmental justice.
Whilst the objectives and protocols delineated hold out a degree of promise, celebrations will have to be put on hold. Even if the EPAs Proposed Chrysotile Asbestos Management Rule is adopted as envisioned public comments on the current draft will be accepted for 60 days a number of loopholes remain to be addressed such as legacy uses, disposals and the legality of other types of asbestos such as amosite, crocidolite, etc.
Considering the resistance previous US attempts to outlaw asbestos faced, serious push-back is to be expected not only from the chlor-alkali industry but also from asbestos defendants who will not welcome the governments repudiation of chrysotile. As California lawyer Steven Kazan explained:
The chrysotile ban proposed by the EPA is of course based on generally accepted scientific consensus of the world's experts and governmental agencies and further weakens the already tenuous 'chrysotile defense' used by asbestos defendants in court cases brought by their injured victims. This is why those companies, led by Koch Industries' Bestwall/Georgia Pacific, will most certainly appeal the EPA's decision and do everything in their power to delay or destroy this order. Once the ban goes into effect it will further weaken those companies' legal defenses; the stakes here are very high.6
The media interest in this news was considerable, with dozens of articles uploaded in the US about the proposed ban and coverage in Portugal, Brazil, Spain and elsewhere; oddly enough, however, no articles have been seen on this subject in the Russian media. As Russia is the worlds most prolific asbestos producer and exporter, one must assume that this development would be of interest to industry stakeholders.7 It seems however that, at the moment, they are staying quiet over this change in US policy. Under the Trump administration, they were only too happy to go public with their joy over his support going as far as putting his picture on plastic-wrapped shipments of chrysotile (white) asbestos. The image was accompanied by the words Approved by Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States.8
If finalized, the US asbestos ban would be a clear signal to countries around the world that the mineral at the heart of a dangerous and outdated technology had been consigned to the history books along with mercury, arsenic, polychlorinated biphenyls and other substances injurious to human health and the environment. Warmly welcoming the draft asbestos prohibitions, former EPA official Betty Southerland said: This is a huge step forward We're finally catching up with the rest of the world. 9
People suffering from asbestos-related diseases and grieving relatives of Americans who died from these diseases since the last ban was overturned might well ask why it has taken so long for the Government to act on the commercial use of a carcinogen widely acknowledged to have caused death and destruction around the world. Whether the EPA or the President could give them a straight answer remains to be seen.
April 13, 2022
1 Of the 38 member countries of The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) only the US and Mexico have not banned asbestos.
IBAS. Current Asbestos Bans. Accessed April 8, 2022.
2 Lemen, RA, Landrigan PJ. Toward an Asbestos Ban in the United States. International Journal of Environmental Research and Environmental Health. November 2017.
4 Kazan-Allen, L. October 18, 2011: A Bloody Anniversary. October 2011.
5 EPA. EPA Proposes to Ban Ongoing Uses of Asbestos, Taking Historic Step to Protect People from Cancer Risk. April 5, 2022.
7 United States Geological Survey. Mineral Commodity Summaries Asbestos. 2022.
9 Sabatini, A. Amianto: occidente termina de cerrar la puerta al peligroso cancerígeno [Asbestos: the West finishes closing the door to the dangerous carcinogen]. April 6, 2022.