EPA Releasing Additional Data on the Ongoing Uses of Chrysotile Asbestos

On March 17, 2023, EPA released additional data for public comment related to the proposed risk management rule for chrysotile asbestos. The proposed rule, introduced in April 2022, aims to prohibit the ongoing use of the only known form of asbestos currently imported into the United States, chrysotile asbestos. The Agency claims that if implemented, the rule will protect people from the unreasonable risk to human health presented by chrysotile asbestos. EPA evaluated human health risks for chrysotile asbestos in Part 1 of the Risk Evaluation for Asbestos; and is currently working on Part 2 of the Risk Evaluation for Asbestos. That document will evaluate legacy uses and associated disposals, including other types of asbestos fibers in addition to chrysotile.

EPA originally proposed that the prohibition on the commercial use of chrysotile asbestos would occur two years after the effective date of the final rule to give facilities time to transition away from asbestos technology. However, after the comment period, EPA received comments and met with stakeholders, including affected industry and other interested groups, about the use of chrysotile asbestos diaphragms in the chlor-alkali industry and chrysotile asbestos-containing sheet gaskets used in chemical production. Raw chrysotile asbestos currently imported into the U.S. is used exclusively by the chlor-alkali industry. It is a main component of systems used for the disinfection of drinking water, but most chlor-alkali plants no longer use asbestos diaphragms, and alternatives are available.

Many commenters argued that the two-year timeline would not provide the chlor-alkali industry with a reasonable transition period and requested additional time to allow the industry to transition away from asbestos-containing diaphragms.  According to EPA, a letter from the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) provides contrasting information that shows that the chlor-alkali industry has shut down a substantial portion of its asbestos diaphragm production capacity in the last three years and is in the process of transitioning to non-asbestos membrane technology.

EPA is seeking comments on how to consider the additional information received regarding maintaining the prohibition compliance dates, staggering the prohibition compliance dates, or establishing longer deadlines for the prohibition on processing, distribution in commerce, and commercial use of chrysotile asbestos. EPA also seeks comments on the new information provided regarding the practicability of measuring 0.005 fibers per cubic centimeter (f/cc) and 0.0025 f/cc for an eight-hour work shift by existing sampling and analytical protocols. Further, the Agency requests suggestions as to how EPA could effectively implement interim exposure reduction requirements in a way that they are compatible with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements and industrial hygiene practices.

EPA states that the Agency plans to use the data it collects during this comment period in the development of the final rule, including the proposed chrysotile asbestos prohibition compliance dates for these uses.