Much like any good movie villain, asbestos has returned to dominate the news cycle and strike fear into the hearts of Americans. We wish this was the start of the world's dumbest joke but, sadly, it is not.
What are Asbestos?
Asbestos are naturally occurring crystal fibrous materials that can resist fire, most chemical reactions and breakdowns, making them durable for a variety of uses, particularly in the building industry.
Why are Asbestos Hazardous?
Research has shown that asbestos exposure is linked to high rates of:
- Mesothelioma — an aggressive form of cancer which occurs in the thin membrane (mesothelium) that protects vital organs in the chest and abdomen, including the lungs and heart. Mesothelioma can take 20-50 years to appear after exposure to asbestos and has a poor life expectancy, as there’s no current cure. In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 2,400-2,800 people were diagnosed in the United States each year; asbestos usage has decreased significantly since the 1970s.
- Lung cancer
- Asbestosis — a degenerative respiratory condition; a result from the formation of scar tissue on the surface of the lung linings (pleura). Although not deadly, asbestosis can be a precursor of mesothelioma
Isn’t Asbestos Banned in America?
No. While certain uses of asbestos were outlawed in the 1970s, including spray-on asbestos for insulation and/or fireproofing in buildings, many uses are still legal.
Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, asbestos manufacturing, importation, processing and distribution of asbestos-containing products is banned in the following categories:
- Corrugated paper
- Commercial paper
- Specialty paper
- Flooring felt
Under the Clean Air Act, asbestos is banned for the following uses:
- Pipe insulation
- Block insulation on facility components, such as boilers and hot water tanks, if the materials are either molded and friable or wet-applied and friable after drying
- Spray-applied surfacing asbestos
They are also banned in artificial fireplace embers and wall-patching compounds.
This is the only time you should see asbestos mentioned in the 21st century.
Many uses for asbestos haven’t been banned in the U.S., however. Unlike 60 countries where asbestos is banned, their use still occurs in the U.S. in many everyday items such as brake pads on vehicles.
Who Can Become Exposed?
The immediate group at risk of asbestos exposure are those who mine the material, are in the surrounding area of a mine and/or work with it, including those in construction. People renovating buildings or in proximity to landfills which contain asbestos can be exposed to it, and there are reports of residents and structures in vicinity of an asbestos mine becoming covered in the toxin, as it can easily travel through the air.
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Why is Everyone Talking About it Now?
On July 31, 2018, Fast Company exposed the Environmental Protection Act’s notice released June 11, 2018, that proposed a significant new use rule (SNUR) for asbestos and asbestos-containing goods.
Now, the proposed SNUR would only relate to those in which asbestos aren’t currently being used, as identified by the EPA. That means those asbestos-containing goods that have been outlawed since the 1970s may now apply for approval by the EPA.
Approval will be granted on a case-by-case basis.
The following uses were identified in the EPA 40 CFR Part 721 rule:
- Roof and non-roof coatings
- Arc chutes
- Beater-add gaskets
- Extruded sealant tape and other tape
- Filler for acetylene cylinders
- High-grade electrical paper
- Missile liner
- Pipeline wrap
- Reinforced plastics
- Roofing felt
- Separators in fuel cells and batteries
- Vinyl-asbestos floor tile
- And any other building materials besides concrete
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Why Should We Be Worried?
This list opens the door to wide use of asbestos. While it isn’t clear what would make the EPA choose to allow or not allow the manufacturing, import and production of goods containing asbestos, President Donald Trump has made previous comments stating he doesn’t believe in the negative effects.
Because asbestos can become airborne, those who unknowingly use asbestos-containing goods or are exposed via proximity to a manufacturing plant or mine are in as much risk as those in the construction and design industries who come into contact with these goods on a regular basis.
Currently there aren’t any asbestos mines in use in America, but this ruling by the EPA could allow for their reuse.
What Can We Do?
This SNUR is open for public comment until August 10, 2018. Comments can be made via www.regulations.gov. RIN: 2070-AK-45; CFR: 40 CFR Part 721; Federal Register Number: 2018-12513.
If passed, those in the design and building industries can commit themselves to never using asbestos-latent products.
Now, go take a break and enjoy our interior design cat day celebration!