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How might the EPA change its asbestos regulations?

Most people understand that exposure to asbestos involves certain health risks. Because of these risks, the use of asbestos is regulated.

Several agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), set these regulations. These regulations also help make it clear when a company is responsible for the health consequences that can be caused by failing to abide by regulations. However, these regulations can change over time, which can affect safety and litigation.

Different agencies share some common ground with their regulations

Several regulatory agencies, including the EPA and OSHA, currently share agreement that “asbestos” refers to six asbestiform minerals collectively or individually. These six minerals include:

  • Chrysotile
  • Amosite
  • Crocidolite
  • Tremolite
  • Anthophyllite
  • Actinolite

These asbestiform minerals are made of thin, flexible and durable fibers. They have been added to many products over the years because they can improve resistance to friction, corrosion, electricity, fire and extreme temperatures.

Unfortunately, asbestos fibers don’t break down in the body. Over time, these fibers can cause scarring or cancer to develop within the body.

Why do some regulations differ between agencies?

Each asbestiform mineral is not equally toxic. The potency of an asbestiform mineral depends on the fiber size, bio-persistence, chemical composition and particle surface characteristics. Generally, chrysotile is considered the least toxic asbestiform mineral. Crocidolite and amosite are considered the most toxic.

How might the EPA alter its regulations?

The difference in toxicity is one reason the definition of asbestos can vary between regulating organizations. The EPA and OSHA currently regulate asbestiform minerals as a class, not individually. They each set one regulation for airborne asbestos exposure and another one for asbestos content in products. This has helped make the rules easier to enforce. It also helped avoid confusion and complication in cases that involve multiple types of asbestiform minerals.

The EPA’s new Draft Risk Evaluation for Asbestos that was issued in March contains comments that suggest it may regulate differently in the near future. It is reportedly proposing different Inhalation Unit Risk (IUR) amounts for chrysotile, amphibole and mixed asbestos. However, there has been some criticism that the IUR proposed for chrysotile is more restrictive than it should be relative to its risk factors.

Although the peer review period for the EPA’s Draft Risk Evaluation for Asbestos is over, the EPA reportedly hopes to publish the final rule by the end of 2020. This evaluation's content is still being revised, but the final rule could affect the way some cases are pursued in the future.

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