EPA Publishes Draft Risk Evaluation of Asbestos, Will Hold Virtual Peer Review Meeting
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the draft risk evaluation of asbestos on March 30, 2020. EPA will publish a notice of availability in the Federal Register, beginning a 60-day comment period. EPA will hold a virtual peer review meeting of the Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC) on the draft risk evaluation April 27-30, 2020. The virtual peer review meeting is open to the public to attend and provide comments. EPA will hold a preparatory virtual meeting on April 7, 2020, for SACC and the public to comment on the clarity and scope of the draft charge questions for the April 27-30, 2020, meeting. EPA asks that comments on the draft risk evaluation be submitted by April 22, 2020, to allow SACC time to review and consider them before the peer review meeting. Comments received after April 22, 2020, and prior to the end of the oral public comment period during the meeting will still be provided to SACC for their consideration.
Draft Risk Evaluation Findings
According to the draft risk evaluation, asbestos has not been mined or otherwise produced in the United States since 2002. Although there are several known types of asbestos, the only form of asbestos known to be imported, processed, or distributed for use in the United States at the time of the draft risk evaluation is chrysotile. Raw chrysotile asbestos currently imported into the United States is used exclusively by the chlor-alkali industry. EPA states that it also identified the importation of asbestos-containing products, but notes that the import volumes of those products are not fully known. The asbestos-containing products identified as being imported and used are sheet gaskets, brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes/linings, other vehicle friction products, and other gaskets. In the draft risk evaluation, EPA evaluated the following categories of conditions of use (COU) for chrysotile asbestos: manufacturing, processing, distribution in commerce, occupational and consumer uses, and disposal. EPA made the following initial determinations on risk:
- EPA did not find risk to the environment. For all the conditions of use included in the draft risk evaluation, EPA has preliminarily found no unreasonable risks to the environment under any of the conditions of use.
- EPA’s draft risk evaluation preliminarily found unreasonable risk to workers, occupational non-users, consumers, and bystanders. EPA found that workers, occupational non-users, consumers, and bystanders could be adversely affected by asbestos under certain conditions of use.
EPA summarizes its initial health risk conclusions as follows:
Occupational Conditions of Use That Present an Unreasonable Risk to Health
- Processing and Industrial use of Asbestos Diaphragms in Chlor-Alkali Industry;
- Processing and Industrial Use of Asbestos-Containing Sheet Gaskets in Chemical Production;
- Industrial Use and Disposal of Asbestos-Containing Brake Blocks in Oil Industry;
- Commercial Use and Disposal of Aftermarket Automotive Asbestos-Containing Brakes/Linings;
- Commercial Use and Disposal of Other Vehicle Friction Products; and
- Commercial Use and Disposal of Other Asbestos-Containing Gaskets.
Consumer Uses and Disposal That Present an Unreasonable Risk to Health
- Aftermarket Automotive Asbestos-Containing Brakes/Linings; and
- Other Asbestos-Containing Gaskets.
Conditions of Use That Do Not Present an Unreasonable Risk to Health
- Import of Asbestos and Asbestos-Containing Products;
- Distribution of Asbestos-Containing Products;
- Disposal of Asbestos-Containing Sheet Gaskets Processed and/or Used in Chemical Production; and
- Import, Use, Distribution, and Disposal of Asbestos-Containing Brakes for the Specialized and Large National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Transport Plane (“Super Guppy”).
EPA states that these initial determinations are based on a draft risk evaluation of the reasonably available information and are not final determinations on whether asbestos presents unreasonable risks under the conditions of use. EPA will use feedback received from the public comment and peer review processes to inform the final risk determinations.
Using Products Safely and Alternatives
EPA states that for any chemical product, it “strongly recommends that users carefully follow all instructions on the product’s label and on the safety data sheets” (SDS). Workers using asbestos products should continue to follow the label/SDSs and applicable workplace regulations and should properly use appropriate personal protective equipment, as needed.
EPA suggests that consumers wishing to avoid exposure should ask retailers if products contain asbestos and consider not using products that do contain asbestos. According to EPA, most asbestos-containing products have been discontinued. Some uses of asbestos are banned, and EPA issued a final rule that strengthens its ability to review rigorously an expansive list of asbestos products that are no longer on the market before they could be sold again in the United States. EPA notes that consumers also can choose not to use products where they do not know the active ingredients.
We commend EPA on its release of the draft risk evaluation of asbestos. The evaluation, as EPA previously announced, does not include releases and exposures related to legacy uses of asbestos. EPA has acknowledged that it will address legacy uses in a follow-on action.
Asbestos presents some uniquely complex and sensitive issues. Because of its known high hazard, asbestos is now, and has been for years, one of the most heavily regulated substances in domestic commerce. EPA considered requirements under TSCA, the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act in its risk evaluation. EPA’s failure to ban asbestos under old TSCA was widely viewed as a driver for the Lautenberg amendments, which added a layer of speculation as to how EPA would proceed under new TSCA. This situation set up expectations that put EPA in a difficult spot, wrongly prompting some to conclude that any result short of a ban spells failure in implementing new TSCA.
Although the risk evaluation will require a thorough review by the SACC and interested stakeholders, the fact that EPA has found some conditions of use to present unreasonable risk and some conditions of uses to not present unreasonable risk suggests that EPA’s review was disciplined and guided by the data.