U.S. Fully Bans Asbestos

by Anna Phillips, The Washington Post

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday finalized a ban on chrysotile asbestos, part of a family of toxic minerals linked to lung cancer and other illnesses that the agency estimates is responsible for about 40,000 U.S. deaths each year.

The federal ban comes more than 30 years after the EPA first tried to rid the nation of asbestos but was blocked by a federal judge. While the use of asbestos in manufacturing and construction has declined since, it remains a significant health threat.

“Folks, it’s been a long road. But with today’s ban, EPA is finally slamming the door on a chemical so dangerous that it has been banned in more than 50 countries,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

The agency’s ban targets chrysotile asbestos, also known as “white asbestos,” the only one of the six forms of the mineral still being used in the United States. Resistant to heat and fire, the mineral is used by companies that make vehicle braking systems and sheet gaskets. Chemical manufacturers have also defended its continued use in making chlorine, which utilities use to purify drinking water, as well as in pharmaceuticals and pesticides.

Michal Freedhoff, who heads chemical safety and pollution prevention for the EPA, called the ban historic, saying it is the first time the nation’s updated chemical safety law has been used to outlaw a dangerous substance. That law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, was so weakened by the federal courts’ decision in 1991 allowing continued asbestos imports and use that “it was rendered almost powerless to protect the people who needed protecting the most,” Freedhoff said.

In 2016, America’s long delay in confronting asbestos prompted bipartisan concern among members of Congress, who voted to overhaul the law, giving the EPA sweeping new authority to protect people from toxins.

Yet years passed with little action. When the Trump administration came to power, it shrank the agency’s staff, leaving the chemical safety office too small, underfunded and demoralized to accomplish its mission.

Finally banning asbestos was at the top of Freedhoff’s to-do list when she became the agency’s top chemical regulator in 2021. As a congressional staffer, she had helped write the 2016 legislation. On a call with reporters Monday, she described the new rule as “a symbol of how the new law can and must be used to protect people.”

The trade group representing the chlorine industry, the American Chemistry Council, has staunchly opposed the administration’s proposed ban since it was announced two years ago, on the grounds that chrysotile asbestos is still used by about a third of U.S. chlor-alkali plants that produce chlorine. The industry group warned that banning this form of asbestos would make it difficult for water utilities to buy chlorine, threatening the safety of the nation’s drinking water.

Freedhoff said that once the EPA decided some of those concerns were valid, it changed its original enforcement timeline. Instead of having two years to phase out the asbestos diaphragms used to make chlorine and sodium hydroxide, the eight American companies that still use this technology will have five years, or in some cases more, to switch to alternatives. Yet imports of new asbestos diaphragms will be prohibited immediately once the rule takes effect, 60 days after it appears in the Federal Register.

Imports of asbestos-containing brake blocks, which have exposed car mechanics to the deadly airborne fibers, will be phased out after six months. And asbestos gaskets will be banned after two years.

While the change in compliance dates was a concession to chlorine manufacturers, most of which have already transitioned away from asbestos-based technology, the chemical industry did not greet it with enthusiasm.

In a statement, Steve Risotto, the American Chemistry Council’s senior director of chemical protects and technology, said supply chain bottlenecks and contractor shortages meant the industry needed more time to comply. “ACC has consistently advocated that a 15-year transition period is needed to support an orderly transition and to avoid a significant disruption of chlorine and sodium hydroxide supplies,” he said.

Environmental and public health advocates praised the new rule and urged the Biden administration to go further by addressing the other types of asbestos, arguing that anything less than a full ban doesn’t protect public health.

“I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but we’re not done,” said Linda Reinstein, president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. In 2006, her husband died of mesothelioma, a cancer closely tied to asbestos exposure.

Wary of federal rules that can be overturned by courts or weakened by future administrations, Reinstein is advocating for legislation that would outlaw all asbestos fibers — and all uses. She’s skeptical of the EPA’s claim that chrysotile asbestos is the only form in use in the United States today.

“If you haven’t done product testing, if you haven’t searched for asbestos in consumer products, then you don’t know if it’s not being used,” she said, adding that, over a decade ago, laboratory testing conducted at her group’s behest identified five products with different combinations of asbestos fibers, including a children’s toy.

Although the use of asbestos has declined, in large part because of liability fears, construction workers, firefighters, paramedics and others who spend time in old buildings are still being exposed. Once building materials containing asbestos are demolished or otherwise disturbed, the mineral’s fibers can stick to skin and clothing, ultimately finding their way into people’s lungs. There is even a name, “asbestosis,” for a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos.

Forever ChemicalsPFAS Well Testing Now Underway. EPA is Looking for Another 150 Homeowners to Sign UpForever Chemicals

Spokesman-Review by Amanda Sullender

Spokane, WA – National and state officials are zeroing in on the West Plains as PFAS well-testing begins this week. Speaking from the center of the exposure in Airway Heights, EPA Regional Administrator Casey Sixkiller said cleanup of the toxic chemicals is a priority of the Biden administration. Sixkiller noted the scrutiny in Eastern Washington is likely to be replicated across the nation as the true impacts of PFAS comes into focus. “PFAS contamination is everywhere,” he said. So far, 144 property owners with private wells have signed up for free testing from the EPA and Washington State Department of Ecology. Well sampling among those who have already requested testing will take place over the next two weeks. Results will be available approximately a month after a sample is taken. For full text, click here.

Utah Businessman Faces Charges for Allegedly Not Cleaning Up Over 3,300 Tons of Asbestos

KUTV CBS by Kayla Winn

Salt Lake City, UT – A Utah businessman and part-owner of the Broadway Hotel faces charges of Clean Air Act violations after allegedly failing to properly dispose of asbestos-containing debris. Daniel Brett, 68, was on indicted on Feb. 14 by a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City. The Broadway Hotel, owned by Brett, was ordered for demolition in 2020 following a fire. Despite knowing about the asbestos presence since 2011, Brett hired an excavation company not certified to handle asbestos-containing material for the demolition, according to court documents. For the full text, click here.

Invitation to Support: 19th National Asbestos Awareness Week (April 1-7, 2024)


The ADAO invites you to support the 19th National Asbestos Awareness Week Resolution, to broaden the reach of asbestos prevention education and to champion the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act. ADAO invites you to join forces with us as a supporter of this vital initiative. Your endorsement will heighten the campaign’s visibility and play an essential role in safeguarding our communities through education and advocacy. The press release will feature your organization and is set to be translated into French, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Ukrainian. For Resolution language, please refer to The History of Global Asbestos Awareness Week on April 1 – 7 || One Word. One Week. One. World. To confirm your support for this initiative, we kindly ask for your response by February 20th via the provided Google form. This ensures we can prominently feature your esteemed organization in all pertinent materials.

Three New Lawsuits Filed Against Mayor, City of Albuquerque for Asbestos at Gibson Health Hub

KRQE by Natalie Wadas

North Linn – Three lawsuits were filed this week against the City of Albuquerque and the mishandling of asbestos at the Gibson Health Hub, also known as the Gateway Center. Two of the lawsuits have nearly two dozen plaintiffs who say they were exposed to asbestos while working the building. The third is from three city workers who say they were retaliated against because they cooperated with investigations into the asbestos. The lawsuit states the city intentionally and negligently exposed people to asbestos. Cravens says the city didn’t test the area, ignored orders from state agencies to stop work until the area had been tested, made employees keep working in dangerous conditions without the right protective gear, and improperly disposed of the materials containing asbestos. For the full text, click here.

IAFF Call on Congress to Ban Asbestos

International Association of Fire Fighters
National – A broad and determined coalition of fire fighters, public health, and safety officials are calling on the public’s support in their decades-long fight to convince the U.S. Congress to ban deadly asbestos, a carcinogen that continues to threaten the health of fire fighters and the public. Fire fighters risk their lives every day to protect citizens from life-threatening emergencies, including responding to fires where the presence of asbestos exposes fire fighters to this known carcinogen. Asbestos has long plagued the profession and contributes to increased occupational cancer rates among fire fighters. The Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2023 is a crucial step in eradicating this toxic threat and safeguarding the well-being of fire fighters nationwide. For the full text and links to EIA’s and other letters of support, click here.