Agencies That Regulate Asbestos
Despite its carcinogenic nature, asbestos has not been banned across the United States. Government agencies regulate the mineral by limiting exposure in numerous attempts to protect people and the environment. These agencies each have their asbestos regulations and guidelines to protect the public from toxins.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The EPA is responsible for protecting and improving our environment. The agency regulates and restricts the use of asbestos in workplaces, schools, and other places where asbestos can be found. The EPA also enforces numerous asbestos-related laws.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
OSHA implements and manages safety and health standards to improve conditions for U.S. workers. It regulates the Asbestos General Standard, which limits asbestos exposure, enforces labeling of asbestos products, regulates waste disposal, and enforces respiratory protection for workers. The Asbestos Construction Standard offers work training and specifies exposure limits.
Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)
MSHA regulates the safety and health of miners in the U.S. The organization implements respiratory protection measures for surface miners. MSHA also regulates exposure limits, engineering controls, and respiratory protection measures for underground miners.
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
CPSC protects consumers and families from hazards in products, including electrical appliances, dangerous chemicals, and flammable materials. The CPSC regulates the general use of asbestos-containing, including emberizing (fire) materials, patching compounds, and asbestos-containing products for public use.
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The Beginning of Asbestos Legislation
Asbestos warnings began to appear in the early 1970s when a decades long conspiracy and cover up was exposed which finally provided the general public knowledge of the dangers of asbestos. A large number of asbestos-related lawsuits began to be filed in the United States court system as injured workers and their families pursued justice. Exposure to the mineral can lead to diseases like mesothelioma, a type of cancer caused by ingesting or inhaling the product.
The EPA started to regulate the mining, manufacturing, use, and disposal of the mineral in the 1970s under the Clean Air Act. The act classified asbestos as a hazardous air pollutant and regulated its use and disposal by banning spray-applied asbestos products, such as fireproofing and insulation.
In 1976, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) regulated chemicals such as asbestos, radon, and lead-based paint. This measure controlled the development, use, and disposal of these substances. However, many agencies failed to enforce the TSCA’s provisions.
In 1986, Under Title II of TSCA, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) required the EPA to circulate regulations that enforced educational agencies to inspect local school buildings for the carcinogen. Schools were also required to prepare management plans and examine possible actions to prevent or reduce asbestos hazards.
The EPA issued the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule (ABPR) in 1989, placed a full ban on manufacturing, importation, processing, and sale of asbestos-containing products. However, only a few products were banned, and the bill was overturned in 1991.
Proposed Asbestos Regulations
In 2002, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington introduced the Murray Bill, which proposed a total ban on the importation, manufacturing, processing, and distribution of products containing the mineral in the United States. The bill eventually passed in the Senate in 2007 but failed to pass in the House of Representatives.
The Bruce Vento Ban Asbestos and Prevent Mesothelioma Act was introduced in 2007 and proposed a ban on a broader range of asbestos products. The bill was named after Congressman Bruce Vento, who died from Mesothelioma in 2000. The bill, which would have amended the TSCA by banning the mineral in the United States, failed to pass Congress.
In 2016, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act amended the TSCA, requiring the EPA to review and evaluate hazardous chemicals already in use, including asbestos. It also required increased public transparency for chemical information. The bipartisan bill increased EPA funding to implement these new responsibilities.
The EPA issued the Significant New Use Rule that went into effect on April 2019. The rule strengthens regulation of asbestos and protects consumers by closing a common loophole. The new law expands the EPA’s ability to review products that are no longer on the market before they can be sold in the United States. The previous loophole (now closed) allowed old asbestos products on the market without EPA oversight. The EPA must review and regulate asbestos-containing products like vinyl floor tiles, insulation, and other building materials before they are imported, produced, or sold in the United States.
State Asbestos Regulations
While federal laws and regulations are applicable across the country, each state has its asbestos laws and regulations. Some state laws have their definition of the legal rights of individuals who have been affected by asbestos exposure. Further, the statute of limitations, or time limits on taking legal action, differs in each state.
Each state implements various major federal asbestos rules and regulations:
- OSHA Construction Standards
- OSHA General Industry Standards
- EPA’s Worker Protection Rule
- EPA National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants
- EPA Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act
- EPA Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act
The EPA’s National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants guidelines require states to establish procedures related to renovation and demolition of individual buildings, structures, and institutions.
EPA Asbestos Regulations
Asbestos Information Act (Public Law 100-577)
The Asbestos Information Act identifies companies that produced asbestos-containing products and requires manufacturers to report production to the EPA.
Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act (ASHARA)
This law extended funding for the abatement loan and grant program for schools. ASHARA increased the number of training hours required for asbestos-related disciplines and expanded the accreditation requirements to cover asbestos abatement projects in public and commercial buildings.
Restrictions on Discontinued Uses of Asbestos Rule
This rule strengthens the EPA’s ability to review products no longer on the market before they can be sold in the United States. The EPA must be notified before asbestos-containing products are manufactured, imported, or processed. The EPA reviews the products, then either implements any necessary restrictions or prohibits use.
Asbestos-Containing Materials in Schools Rule
Under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), this rule requires local education agencies to inspect school buildings and prepare management plans. School agencies must take actions to prevent or reduce asbestos hazards. Both public and private schools are subject to the rule’s requirements.
EPA Asbestos Worker Protection Rule
State and local government employees who worked with asbestos, who weren’t previously covered by OSHA’s regulations, are protected under the EPA’s Asbestos Worker Protection Rule (TSCA). This rule falls under Section 6 of TSCA.
Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP)
The NESHAP regulates the use of asbestos products in specific work practices that involve demolitions and renovations of most structures, installations, and buildings. Under NESHAP, the owner of the building or the operator is required to notify the appropriate state agency before any demolition or renovations of the buildings that may contain asbestos. NESHAP requires visible emissions like asbestos fibers cannot be released into the outside air.
Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA)
As stated previously, the EPA requires local school agencies to inspect school buildings for asbestos hazards in building material. Under AHERA, states must use licensed inspectors to investigate dangers in schools. AHERA requires the EPA to create a model plan and requires states to use accredited professionals to inspect and remove the mineral.
The Clean Air Act (CAA)
The Clean Air Act includes asbestos in its list of hazardous air pollutants and requires the EPA to protect and improve the air quality and ozone layer. Air pollutants such as the mineral fiber are controlled through national emission standards. The act was passed in 1963 and has been amended several times.
Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
Under SDWA, federal law protects the quality of drinking water in the United States. The EPA is responsible for setting the standards for the quality of drinking water and oversees the states, localities, and water suppliers who follow these standards.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)
CERCLA addresses abandoned hazardous waste sites in the United States and oversaw the possible release of the carcinogen into the environment. In 1986, the act was amended by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA) and the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act of 2002.
Globally, 60 countries have banned asbestos use in some form. Other countries, like India and Russia, still use the fibers for gaskets, ropes, cloth, insulation, and other products. Countries that still produce the carcinogen often don’t have adequate enforcement of rules and regulations to limit exposure.
The United States still imports and uses asbestos. Since mining ceased in 2002, America has relied solely on importing the mineral. Most imports in the United States come from Brazil. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 750 metric tons of mineral were imported in 2018. Further, an unknown quantity of products containing asbestos has been imported.
The International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) calls for a global ban on all forms of asbestos mining, sales, and use. The ICOH hopes to eliminate all asbestos-related diseases.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has fought for a worldwide ban since 2005. The motivation behind WHO stems from the growing number of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma. In 2013, the WHO introduced a global action plan to end asbestos use in 190 nations and states by 2020.
In 2016, the EPA added the carcinogen to the top 10 list of chemicals for priority action under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which will allow the EPA to put the mineral up for review by the agency.
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