The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has introduced a proposal that would ban the importation of chrysotile asbestos, the last type of asbestos currently able to be brought into the country, Health Day reported.
Chrysotile asbestos is a known carcinogen to humans that is still used in automotive parts such as brakes and gaskets.
In 1989, the EPA issued the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule, which was written with the intention of imposing a full ban on the manufacturing, importation, processing and sale of asbestos-containing products. However, a court decision two years later overturned the ban and weakened the EPA’s ability to police the mineral for its potential health risks.
"Today, we're taking an important step forward to protect public health and finally put an end to the use of dangerous asbestos in the United States," EPA administrator Michael Regan said in an agency news release. "This historic proposed ban would protect the American people from exposure to chrysotile asbestos, a known carcinogen."
Despite the 1991 overturn, asbestos use in the United States has been gradually declining. The overwhelming majority of consumer-facing products that contain chrysotile asbestos have been discontinued. Raw chrysotile asbestos is still imported into the United States for use by chlor-alkali chemical companies.
Chlor-alkali refers to two chemicals, chlorine and an alkali, which are simultaneously produced as a result of the electrolysis of saltwater. Common alkali chemicals produced alongside chlorine are sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide and muriatic acid. These chemicals are used in a myriad of applications, including the treatment of drinking water.
According to Chemical & Engineering News, the chlor-alkali industry uses asbestos in diaphragms that separate the two compartments of an electrolytic cell, which converts electrical energy into chemical energy. The diaphragm prevents sodium hydroxide from reacting with chlorine and allows the two chemicals to remain separated for further processing. In 2020, the EPA determined that chlor-alkali diaphragms posed unreasonable cancer risks to workers and consumers because of the risk of inhalation.
The EPA is still evaluating the risk of asbestos contamination in talc-containing products such as cosmetics. In 2020, Johnson & Johnson discontinued selling its talc-based products in North America.
Over 38,000 individuals have sued Johnson & Johnson over cancer claims related to the company’s talc products such as J&J Baby Powder and Shower to Shower. Plaintiffs claim that long-term usage of J&J products containing talc in the genital area caused them to develop ovarian cancer.
Talc and asbestos are minerals that are located in close proximity to each other. When talc is mined, it may contain traces of asbestos.