EPA publishes first installment of controversial risk evaluation for asbestos

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication.

Washington — Critics of the Environmental Protection Agency are renewing their call for a complete ban on asbestos after the agency’s release of Part 1 of a final risk evaluation that concludes that the substance – a known human carcinogen – presents an unreasonable health risk to workers under certain conditions.

Used in chlor-alkali production, consumer products, coatings and compounds, plastics, roofing products, and other applications, asbestos is among the first 10 chemicals under evaluation for potential health and environmental risks under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.

Released Dec. 30 and announced via a notice published in the Jan. 4 Federal Register, Part 1 of the final evaluation centers on chrysotile asbestos and states the substance poses unreasonable risk to workers involved in numerous operations, including:

  • Processing and industrial use of asbestos diaphragms in the chlor-alkali industry
  • Processing and industrial use of asbestos-containing sheet gaskets in chemical production
  • Industrial use and disposal of asbestos-containing brake blocks in the oil industry
  • Commercial use and disposal of aftermarket automotive asbestos-containing brakes/lining, other vehicle friction products and other asbestos-containing gaskets

As required under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which the Lautenberg Act amended, EPA must address risks by proposing within one year regulatory actions such as training, certification, restricted access and/or ban of commercial use, and then accept public comment on any proposals.

EPA states that Part 2 of the final risk evaluation is in development, and anticipates releasing a draft scope around the middle of the year. Part 2 will focus on legacy uses and disposals of asbestos, which the agency defines as “conditions of use for which manufacture (including import), processing and distribution of commerce no longer occur, but where use and disposal are still known, intended or reasonably foreseen to occur (e.g., asbestos in older buildings).”

In a press release, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization asserts the two-part approach is incomplete, noting that the agency omits five other types of asbestos fiber beyond chrysotile in Part 1 while failing to address known health effects related to asbestos, including asbestosis and ovarian cancer. Additionally, Part 1 “is based on grossly incomplete information about current asbestos exposure and use,” the nonprofit organization contends.

“EPA’s final risk evaluation ignores the numerous recommendations of its own scientific advisors and other independent experts by claiming that these deficiencies will be addressed in a future Part 2 evaluation,” ADAO President and co-founder Linda Reinstein said in the release. “Based on this sleight-of-hand maneuver, the agency has issued a piecemeal and dangerously incomplete evaluation that overlooks numerous sources of asbestos exposure and risk, and understates the enormous toll of disease and death for which asbestos is responsible.”

The House on Sept. 29 was slated to vote on the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act, a bill that calls for a federal ban of asbestos. The legislation is named for Reinstein’s late husband, who died from mesothelioma in 2006.

However, the bill, which passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee by a 47-1 vote in November 2019, ultimately stalled and was removed from the suspension calendar without a vote, as House Democrats chastised their Republican counterparts for withdrawing their support.

According to an Oct. 1 report published in The Hill, the controversy centered on a provision that guarantees the bill wouldn’t impact ongoing litigation concerning injuries related to the use of talcum powder.

In a joint statement released Oct. 1, Committee Chair Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chair Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) said: “Everyone should be able to support a ban on this known carcinogen, which has no place in our consumer products or processes.”

The group added: “Republicans walked away from this opportunity to ban asbestos merely over language that prevents shutting the courtroom door. This raises serious questions about the sincerity of their intentions.”

Committee Ranking Member Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) and Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) offered a rebuttal in an Oct. 1 statement: “Saying we walked away is simply untrue. All Democrats have to do is drop the language added to the bill by trial lawyers and bring the bill to the floor that every one of their members voted for when it was considered by our committee. If anyone’s intentions should be questioned, we can assure you it’s not ours.”


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EPA publishes final risk evaluation for methylene chloride

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Photo: California Department of Public Health

Washington — Methylene chloride poses “unreasonable risk” to workers under certain conditions, according to a final risk evaluation recently released by the Environmental Protection Agency, which now is compelled to propose within one year regulatory action to mitigate the chemical’s hazards.

Frequently used for bathtub refinishing, methylene chloride is among the first 10 chemicals under evaluation for potential health and environmental risks under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. In 2014, EPA found that exposure to the chemical may cause cancer, harm to the central nervous system and toxicity to the liver, among other adverse health effects.

The final evaluation, published June 19, is the first to be released for the 10 chemicals. Announced via a notice published in the June 24 Federal Register, the document states methylene chloride poses unreasonable risk to workers involved in numerous operations, including:

  • Plastic and rubber manufacturing
  • Electrical equipment, appliance and component manufacturing
  • Oil and gas drilling, extraction and support activities
  • Adhesive/caulk removal
  • Cold pipe insulation
  • Aerosol and non-aerosol degreasing and cleaning

Additionally, EPA determined an unreasonable risk is not present during the following conditions of use:

  • Domestic manufacture
  • Processing as a reactant
  • Recycling
  • Distribution in commerce
  • Industrial and commercial use as a laboratory chemical
  • Disposal

As required under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which the Lautenberg Act amended, EPA must address risks by proposing within one year regulatory actions such as training, certification, restricted access, and/or ban of commercial use, and then accept public comment on any proposals.

“Releasing the first final risk evaluation marks a key milestone in our efforts to fulfill our responsibilities for ensuring the safety of chemicals already on the market,” Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, assistant administrator of the EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution, said in a June 19 press release. “By following the TSCA process, we can have confidence in our final conclusions and move forward with developing a plan to protect the public from any unreasonable risks.”

In March 2019, EPA published a final rule that prohibits manufacture (including import), processing and distribution of the substance in paint removers for consumer use, as well as requires manufacturers, processors and distributors to notify retailers and others in the supply chain about the ban.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in the release that the action “builds on last year’s ban on consumer sales of certain methylene chloride products and will guide the agency’s efforts to further reduce risks from this chemical.”

Liz Hitchcock, director of the Washington-based advocacy group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, called on the agency to expedite its regulatory actions, contending in a June 19 statement that “the longer EPA drags its feet, the more lives will be lost.” According to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, at least 64 people have died from acute exposure to methylene chloride since 1980.

“The time for study and talk is long past,” Hitchcock’s statement reads. “EPA should take immediate action on the danger it has once again recognized in this risk evaluation and finish the job to protect workers. The agency must immediately finalize its proposed ban on commercial use of these products. To wait any longer to protect workers from these dangerous products when EPA has the ability to ban them now is unconscionable and will result in more preventable deaths.”

In April 2019, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families was part of a coalition of groups representing worker rights that filed a lawsuit against EPA and Wheeler for excluding workers in the final rule.

EPA previously solicited comments on problem formation documents for the first 10 chemicals before releasing its first draft risk evaluation – for Pigment Violet 29 – in November 2018. The agency released its draft risk evaluation for methylene chloride in October.

EPA says it plans to release final risk evaluations for the remaining nine of the first 10 chemicals by the end of the year.

EPA requests feedback on draft scope documents for 20 ‘high priority’ chemical risk evaluations

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Washington — The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking public comment on draft scope documents for 20 additional chemicals the agency has designated as high-priority substances for risk evaluation under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, according to respective notices published in the April 9 and April 23 Federal Register.

As required under the Lautenberg Act, which amended the Toxic Substances Control Act, EPA was to release a scope document for each chemical by June, detailing hazards, exposures, conditions of use, and potentially exposed or susceptible subpopulations.

Comments are due May 26 for the 13 chemicals outlined in the April 9 Federal Register, and June 8 for the seven other chemicals.

Finalized in a list published in the Dec. 30 Federal Register, the chemicals include:

  • Seven chlorinated solvents
  • Six phthalates, or hormone-disrupting substances, linked to several health-related issues
  • Four flame retardants
  • Formaldehyde
  • One fragrance additive
  • One polymer precursor

EPA previously considered comments on 40 chemicals to prioritize for risk evaluation. Publication of the list in March 2019 triggered a statutory requirement for EPA to designate at least 20 chemicals, each as high and low priority, by Dec. 22.

The 20 chemicals are separate from the first 10 chemicals under current agency evaluation for potential health and environmental risks under the Lautenberg Act.

EPA notes that chemicals identified as high priority must undergo a three-year evaluation for potential health and environmental risks but adds that the designation “is not a finding of unreasonable risk.”

EPA seeks feedback on draft risk evaluation for asbestos

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Photo: j4m3z/iStockphoto

Washington — The Environmental Protection Agency is asking for public comment on a draft risk evaluation that states asbestos, a known human carcinogen, presents an unreasonable health risk to workers under certain conditions, while critics of the agency renew their call for a complete ban of the substance.

Used in chlor-alkali production, consumer products, coatings and compounds, plastics, roofing products, and other applications, asbestos is among the first 10 chemicals slated for evaluation for potential health and environmental risks under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, as outlined in November 2016.

The long-anticipated draft states that asbestos poses “unreasonable risk” to workers engaged in operations involving:

  • Processing and industrial use of asbestos diaphragms in chlor-alkali industry
  • Processing and industrial use of asbestos-containing sheet gaskets in chemical production
  • Industrial use and disposal of asbestos-containing brake blocks in the oil industry
  • Commercial use and disposal of aftermarket automotive asbestos-containing brakes/linings, other vehicle friction products and other asbestos-containing gaskets

As required under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which the Lautenberg Act amended, the draft risk evaluation is scheduled to undergo a virtual peer review April 27-30 during a meeting of the Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals. Requests to speak during the SACC virtual peer review are due April 22. Comments on the draft risk evaluation are due June 2.

In March 2019, EPA released a final “significant new use” rule the agency said is intended to keep manufacturers from reintroducing discontinued uses of asbestos. The rule, which went into effect June 24, established a review process requiring agency approval for entities seeking to start or resume uses that include – but are not limited to – adhesives, sealants, and roof and non-roof coatings; arc chutes; millboard; reinforced plastics; roofing felt; and vinyl-asbestos floor tile.

The agency states the rule does not impact the prohibited uses of asbestos covered in a 1989 partial ban.

In a March 31 press release, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization President and co-founder Linda Reinstein claims EPA followed a “flawed approach” that examined only one of six types of recognized asbestos fibers.

“That EPA found this level of risk, despite the severe limitations and deficiencies of their evaluation, speaks volumes,” Reinstein said. “We need Congress to move to now to pass the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act.”

In March 2019, lawmakers in the House and Senate reintroduced the legislation, which calls for a complete federal ban of asbestos. The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the bill – named for Reinstein’s late husband, Alan, who died from mesothelioma in 2006 – by a 47-1 vote in November.

Committee Chair Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) contends in an April 1 press release that the timing of EPA’s actions amid the COVID-19 pandemic is evidence that the agency “has no intention of addressing this dangerous, proven carcinogen” and echoed the call for Congress to approve a federal ban.

“Publishing this long-awaited proposal for public comment now – in the midst of a declared national emergency – shows just how out of touch the Trump administration is,” Pallone said. “Americans and our public health community do not have the time right now to review and offer comment on this proposal.”