U.S. EPA to Ban Chrysotile Asbestos
Posted: June 2nd, 2022Authors: Adam C. Heather B.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) issued a proposed rule under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to ban chrysotile asbestos. The rule was published in the Federal Register (FR) on April 5, 2022 and is currently in a public comment period that will end on June 13, 2022. Once finalized, the rule will be codified in Title 40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 751. The proposed rule is a result of the TSCA risk evaluation for asbestos, part 1: chrysotile asbestos, completed in December 2020. This evaluation determined that the risk to human health caused by chrysotile asbestos is unreasonable.
Asbestos is known to be a carcinogen and causes multiple adverse health issues, particularly when inhaled. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for asbestos is 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter of air as an eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA), with an excursion limit (EL) of 1.0 asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter of air over a 30-minute period. To protect human health, U.S. EPA considered implementing an existing chemical exposure limit (ECEL) of 0.005 fibers per cubic centimeter as an 8-hour TWA but opted to ban chrysotile asbestos altogether instead. Asbestos is no longer mined in the United States, and chrysotile asbestos is the only type still imported to the United States. Chrysotile (serpentine) asbestos is less harmful than the other five types: crocidolite (riebeckite), amosite (cummingtonite-grunerite), anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite.
The proposed rule has the potential to affect users, manufacturers, importers, processors, distributors, and disposers of chrysotile asbestos, including the following industries:
- Oil and Gas Extraction (NAICS code 211)
- Chemical Manufacturing (NAICS code 325)
- Fabricated Metal Product Manufacturing (NAICS code 332)
- Transportation Equipment Manufacturing (NAICS code 336)
- Gasket, Packing, and Sealing Device Manufacturing (NAICS code 339991)
- Motor Vehicle and Motor Vehicle Parts and Supplies Merchant Wholesalers (NAICS code 4231)
- Motor Vehicle and Parts Dealers (NAICS code 441)
- Automotive Repair and Maintenance (NAICS code 8111)
As currently written, the proposed rule will prohibit the import and use of chrysotile asbestos in diaphragms and chemical production sheet gaskets two years after its effective date. Brakes, other friction products, and other gaskets that contain chrysotile asbestos will be banned 180 days after the effective date of the final rule. These products are the only types still known to contain chrysotile asbestos.
One significant use of chrysotile asbestos is in the chlor-alkali industry, which uses chrysotile asbestos diaphragms in the production of chlorine. The diaphragms are used to separate anodes and cathodes during the electrolysis of brine, where chloride ions are converted to chlorine. Asbestos is used due to its durability and resistance to the caustic soda co-product.
The diaphragms contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), but prohibiting them might increase the use of PFAS because they could be replaced by membranes that contain even higher concentrations of PFAS. Such membranes are an alternative to the asbestos diaphragms, and their use could cause more PFAS to be released into the environment. Like asbestos, PFAS are linked to harmful health effects and are becoming more widely regulated, especially in water. U.S. EPA evaluated this and determined that the benefits of banning chrysotile asbestos outweighed the risks.
Companies in the chlor-alkyl industry should watch for potential changes in the regulations pertaining to PFAS. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) could have updates regarding PFAS. ALL4 will continue to monitor the regulatory climate concerning PFAS and alert any clients that might be affected. ALL4 is also here to assist with any related environmental issues. If you have questions about how the proposed rule could affect your facility’s compliance, or would like to discuss strategies for product substitution, please reach out to Heather Brinkerhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.