What Is the EPA's Risk Evaluation of Asbestos?

Asbestos has led a long and complicated existence in the United States. Because it is cheap and has fire resistant and other useful properties, through the decades it could be found in everything from navy ships and firefighter equipment to brake pads and building products.

Over time, the dangers of asbestos became apparent. Victims injured by asbestos exposure won industry-changing lawsuits. The government finally took steps to restrict some uses of the mineral. But it has been a slow process and asbestos still has not been totally banned in the United States.

As time has marched forward, the issue has continued to create debate. In December 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its Final Risk Evaluation for chrysotile asbestos. In this article, we will examine the agency’s conclusions and the effect on those who have been exposed to asbestos in the past.

Chrysotile Asbestos

While asbestos is often referred to as a single mineral, there are actually six different types of asbestos, including:

  • Actinolite
  • Amosite
  • Anthophyllite
  • Chrysotile
  • Crocidolite
  • Tremolite

According to the EPA, chrysotile asbestos is the only type of asbestos “known to be imported, processed, or distributed for use in the United States, including in manufacturing, processing, distribution in commerce, occupational and consumer uses, and disposal.” Politico reports that 100 tons of chrysotile asbestos were imported (all from Brazil) into the United States in 2021. In previous years, imports were also received from Russia.

Purpose of the EPA Study

In this study, the EPA performed its risk assessment of chrysotile asbestos in accordance with amendments to a law called the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The EPA sought to determine whether this form of asbestos presents an unreasonable risk of injury to human health or the environment.

Results of Risk Assessment Concerning Risk of Injury to Health

Part 1 of the EPA’s risk assessment determined that there exist unreasonable risks to workers, consumers, occupational non-users, and bystanders from 16 of the 32 conditions of use of chrysotile asbestos that were examined. The results come as no surprise to asbestos opponents and confirm what many people have known for years - that long-term exposure to asbestos can cause harmful health effects, including mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Where Do We Go from Here?

In early 2022, the EPA issued a proposed rule which would ban almost all currently existing uses of asbestos. Given that a number of prior efforts at banning the substance failed, this is an exciting step for those who believe there should be no further use of asbestos in this country.

However, the proposed ban would apply only to chrysotile asbestos. Other forms of asbestos are still being studied by the EPA. There is also a minor proposed exception for a specialized use in brake blocks for a NASA cargo plane named the “Super Guppy.”

Uses of asbestos that have been previously permitted would be phased out over time. For example, chloralkali plants would be granted a two-year transition period. Similarly, sheet gaskets would have two years. Some products would have only 180 days before the ban would take effect.

The Future for Those Exposed to Asbestos

Only time will tell if the EPA’s proposed rule ultimately becomes law. Any restriction on the use of asbestos could help protect workers and others who would have been exposed to the dangerous mineral if not for the ban. However, dangers will still exist.

First, many buildings and products already contain asbestos and some people will have jobs that continue to bring them in contact with it. Additionally, there are many unfortunate people who were exposed to asbestos in the past. It can take mesothelioma decades to develop. Thus, people will continue to get sick due to their past exposure, even if asbestos is banned in the future.

Call with Questions

If you or a loved one has developed adverse health effects due to asbestos exposure, you may be entitled to compensation. The mesothelioma lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield know you will almost certainly have questions about your rights. We are here to answer them and will gladly provide you with a free consultation. We have helped victims all across Oregon. We believe that it is imperative to hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions so that victims are properly compensated and society is made safer.


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