EPA official says agency may ban asbestos

An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official said the agency may ban asbestos near the end of the year.

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said the agency will complete its risk assessment of asbestos within the three years set out by Congress by the end of 2019.   

“If there is any unreasonable risk, the EPA will regulate, and our regulation could take the form of a ban,” Dunn told The Hill.

While asbestos is not widely used in the U.S., some products that contain asbestos are imported into the U.S. for the manufacture other products, including chlorine, some automotive parts, and in the oil drilling process.

But the dangers of asbestos have long been documented: the carcinogen causes illnesses like lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.

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Dunn’s comments come on the heels of releasing a controversial rule Thursday that limited the use of asbestos but stopped short of the ban that many environmental and health groups have called for.

Critics characterized the new rule as a middling effort that didn’t do enough to bar a substance almost universally regarded as dangerous.

“This new rule makes it more difficult for industry to resume some abandoned uses of asbestos, but that is a half step at best,” Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney at the Environmental Working Group, wrote in a press release. An outright ban “is the only way the public can trust industry will never again be able to use this dangerous material that has literally killed tens of thousands of Americans.”

Dunn said critics are getting ahead of themselves -- EPA can only ban asbestos after a thorough risk review, which they started in 2016 after action from Congress gave the agency greater power to review chemical safety.

“Yesterday’s action closes the door on uses that we do not want to ever see return to the U.S. marketplace,” she said. “We don’t have the authority to go directly to a ban. We have to evaluate risk; EPA has to follow the law.”