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Will there be new approved uses for asbestos?

Recently the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) changed its policy on the regulation of asbestos. It now includes it as a substance that is subject to the “significant new use rule” (SNUR). Used in only a few circumstances, the rule creates added oversight for chemicals that might be hazardous.

This change comes as a bit of a surprise, since many were hoping for a ban on the dangerous carcinogen. While there would be additional oversight before any new uses were granted, the important piece of this update is that new uses will allowed again.

Here are a few important things to know about SNUR.

What does SNUR cover?

Significant new use rules do not deal exclusively with asbestos. Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, significant new use rules create a way for the EPA to oversee and approve (or disapprove) the use of chemicals that “ might create concerns.”

Interestingly, there are already a lot of concerns around the current limited uses for asbestos. Asbestos has been linked to mesothelioma as well as other respiratory illnesses. With more potential uses for asbestos, there could be the possibility of more cases of asbestos-related illnesses.

What happens next?

Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and has since been phased out of many of its uses over the last several decades. Asbestos is no longer mined in Canada or the U.S. However, there are still countries across the globe that mine and process asbestos for use in limited building materials and vehicle parts that are used in the U.S. Other countries have created complete bans on the substance.

SNUR is not the step toward banning the substance that many were hoping for. While there will be a significant amount of research deliberation and oversight into any proposed new uses, asbestos remains deadly and continues to be used throughout the country.

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