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EPA Bans Cancer-Causing Asbestos

'This concern that has spanned generations and impacted the lives of countless people,' said EPA Administrator

EPA Bans Cancer-Causing Asbestos

The United States federal government has banned the only form of asbestos currently imported or used in the country.

Exposure to asbestos can cause lung cancer mesothelioma, ovarian cancer, and laryngeal cancer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, asbestos exposure causes 40,000 deaths annually. 

“The science is clear – asbestos is a known carcinogen that has severe impacts on public health. President Biden understands that this concern that has spanned generations and impacted the lives of countless people. That’s why EPA is so proud to finalize this long-needed ban on ongoing uses of asbestos,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in a press release on March 18. “Under the President’s leadership, EPA has been working expeditiously to put the nation’s chemical safety program back on track and finally realize the protections of the 2016 law. This action is just the beginning as we work to protect all American families, workers, and communities from toxic chemicals.”

The EPA said ending any remaining use of asbestos complies with President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden’s federal initiative to end cancer, known as Cancer Moonshot. One of the initiative goals is to prevent more cancers before they start by, for example, directing the Department of Agriculture to create a new division to “accelerate research on diet-related chronic diseases, including cancer, and aims to translate research into impactful solutions that improve public health and well-being.” Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration has created new regulations for tobacco products citing the goal of “significantly” reducing tobacco-related morbidity and mortality.”

Asbestos was discovered by the Ancient Greeks and has been used throughout history, gaining significant popularity during the Industrial Revolution. Asbestos was commonly used in the U.S. during the 1900s as part of heat insulation.

According to the nonprofit Mesothelioma Help:

In the 1930s major medical journals began to publish articles which linked asbestos to cancer. People may be exposed to asbestos in their workplaces, communities, or even homes. Asbestos products release tiny asbestos fibers into the air. When these fibers are breathed in, they may get trapped in the lungs. The fibers accumulate in the lungs over time and eventually lead to mesothelioma. Many of the people currently fighting mesothelioma in America were unwittingly exposed to asbestos in their younger years and were shocked to find out that they had been exposed to such a harmful substance for such a long period of time.

The first effort to federally ban asbestos was introduced in 1970 as an amendment to the Clean Air Act, according to the MAA Center. In 1989 the EPA introduced the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule, but the rule was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1991. The agency did not appeal the decision. 

The EPA has now set transition deadlines for any industry using chrysotile asbestos, the last known form of asbestos used commercially. This includes the chlor-alkali sector which makes sodium hydroxide and chlorine with asbestos diaphragms. Sodium hydroxide and chlorine are used to disinfect drinking water and wastewater.

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