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EPA Bans Asbestos, Yet Legacy Asbestos Remains Widespread Health Threat

LIUNA General President Brent Booker
LIUNA General President
Brent Booker

In March, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule banning chrysotile asbestos, the last type of asbestos currently used or imported into the U.S. This is a major milestone for a chemical that’s known to cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and several other kinds of cancer and is linked to more than 40,000 U.S. deaths each year.

“We commend the Biden Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency on this landmark rule to ban and phase out chrysotile asbestos,” said LIUNA General President Brent Booker. “This rule honors the sacrifices of the hundreds of thousands of people who died due to asbestos exposure.”

What Does the New EPA Rule Ban?

While most new uses of asbestos have been banned for years, the new EPA rule specifically bans or phases out chrysotile asbestos in the following applications:

  • Asbestos use in aftermarket auto parts such as brake pads, brake linings and heat seals. This goes into effect six months after the final rule.
  • Bans use in most sheet gaskets after two years, with phase outs for gaskets used to make titanium dioxide or process nuclear material at Department of Energy sites
  • Asbestos in diaphragms used to make sodium hydroxide and chlorine for disinfecting water. The EPA notes there are ways to disinfect water or make chlorine without the use of asbestos.

“Asbestos has harmed people across the country for decades, and under President Biden’s leadership, we are taking decisive action to ban its use,” said Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality. “This action marks a major step to improve chemical safety after decades of inadequate protections.”

Legacy Asbestos Remains a Risk to Workers and Consumers

Legacy asbestos refers to asbestos-containing materials or loose fibers still existing in old buildings, homes, appliances and other applications. For most of the twentieth century, asbestos was the go-to material for fireproofing buildings, dampening sound, strengthening pipes, increasing the durability of tiles and many other uses. Its use peaked in the 1970s before being restricted in the 1980s. The problem is that asbestos used in buildings and these other applications doesn’t break down on its own. It has to be removed by hand – usually by construction workers.

That’s why construction workers have historically been on the frontlines of diseases caused by asbestos exposure. LIUNA members and other construction workers performing maintenance, renovation and demolition work on older buildings and bridges can be at risk for exposure to asbestos. OSHA’s asbestos standard for the construction industry outlines the steps contractors must take to protect workers during this type of work. LIUNA’s network of training centers across the U.S. and Canada – led by the LIUNA Training and Education Fund – offer asbestos abatement courses and training to ensure that LIUNA members can remove this dangerous substance while protecting their health.

“The hard-working LIUNA members who build, maintain and demolish our infrastructure are grateful to President Biden for prioritizing the lives, health and safety of construction workers with this ban,” said LIUNA General President Brent Booker. “This is a giant step forward but it will not end until we have completely removed asbestos from each and every workplace.”

In the press release banning chrysotile asbestos, the EPA noted it’s also evaluating other types of asbestos – including legacy uses – in its risk evaluation as part of the Toxic Substances Control Act. That evaluation is due to be finalized by December 1, 2024.

For more information about the risks of asbestos in legacy applications, contact the Fund’s OSH Division. LIUNA signatory contractors and other LIUNA affiliates can also get more information by ordering the Fund’s Asbestos in Construction Health Alert or Asbestos Toolbox Talk after logging in on our website.

[Nick Fox]

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