It’s been a while since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had issued any findings or ruling on asbestos or asbestos-related products. Ever since the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule (ABPR) was gutted in 1991 in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, there has been a grey area when it comes to certain asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). Some have worried new EPA rulings could either expand that grey area or allow new asbestos manufacturing and product use in the United States.
The History of Significant New Use Ruling (SNUR)
On June 1st of 2018, the EPA proposed a new rule called the Significant New Use Rule or SNUR. Designed as a framework for allowing the use of toxic materials and chemicals (including asbestos). Many environmental and health agencies and watch groups had concerned that this could potential reopen the use of asbestos in construction and other dangerous industries in new ways not covered by the parts of the ABPR that remained in place.
The Findings of the New SNUR for Asbestos
The EPA issued its rule on June 24, 2019, calling for the closure of the “asbestos-containing” left from the partial repeal of the ABPR. The rule states that any discontinued use of asbestos cannot re-enter the market without reviewal from the EPA, applying the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to any new entrants. However, much like the ruling before it, this leaves a grey area due to the lack of a complete ban, meaning the EPA could hypothetically approval asbestos substances in the future.
Do We Have to Worry About New Asbestos?
The Environmental Working Group – a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment – issued a press release on the matter, referring to the new measures as a half step:
“This new rule makes it more difficult for industry to resume some abandoned uses of asbestos, but that is a half step at best,” said Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney at EWG. “Administrator Wheeler should use the authority under the new Toxic Substances Control Act law and ban all uses of asbestos. That is the only way the public can trust industry will never again be able to use this dangerous material that has killed tens of thousands of Americans.”
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