After Being Gone For Nearly 50 Years, Asbestos Could Be Making A Comeback Under New EPA Guidelines

asbestos danger sign
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now allowing companies to use one of the most dangerous construction-related carcinogens on a case-by-case basis, reports The Architect’s Newspaper. The new rule, known as a SNUR (Significant New Use Rule), was authorized on June 1.

Environmental advocates claim that the new rule allows chemical companies deciding power when it comes to the use of harmful substances, like asbestos, in their manufacturing.

This news follows on the heels of a report the EPA released in May, detailing a new framework for how the agency will evaluate potentially harmful substances. The report stated that the EPA will not be considering substances in the air, ground, or water in their assessments.

The decision was also made after the EPA analyzed its first group of 10 chemicals under the 2016 amendment to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The amendment requires the agency to retest hundreds of dangerous chemicals to reevaluate their risks and determine whether or not further restrictions need to be made. Unfortunately, the SNUR allows companies to begin using dangerous chemicals again without taking into consideration how it will affect anyone who comes into contact with it, directly or indirectly.

Asbestos was a magical mineral used in construction until it was banned in many countries in the 1970s. The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that has placed restrictions on its use instead of banning it outright. Even with the restrictions, data shows that there are almost 40,000 asbestos-related deaths annually, with lung cancer and mesothelioma the most common illnesses resulting from exposure to the chemical.

Asbestos Removal Technologies Inc.
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Environmental advocacy group Healthy Building Network (HBN) told Fast Company that the exposure to the material does not have to be as direct as one may think. While health risks are significant for miners and for workers in industrial facilities who handle asbestos, just the presence of the fibers carried in the air can affect people in neighboring areas.

HBN’s Board President Bill Walsh said that the use of asbestos in the U.S. can be narrowed down to the chlor-alkali industry, which imports around 480 tons of the substance annually from Russia and Brazil.

Walsh added that while the EPA may be easing asbestos regulations, state and local governments can still be responsible for countering the move. Individual companies, manufacturers, and facilities will also be able to control how they allow the new rule to affect the type of material they use in their production and construction.

The Architect’s Newspaper reports that Walsh believes it is sustainable building-product manufacturers and architects who have the ultimate say.

“Architects really set the pace of design, in terms of aesthetics and materials that we like. If they start to incorporate health-based criteria into their palette, it could really have an influence on what the manufacturers produce.”