EPA Proposes to Ban Ongoing Uses of Asbestos

April 11, 2022
The EPA is taking action to protect people from asbestos exposure by releasing a proposed rule to prohibit ongoing uses of the only known form of asbestos currently imported into the U.S. This proposed rule is the first-ever risk management rule issued under the new process for evaluating and addressing the safety of existing chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that was enacted in 2016.
“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,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “This historic proposed ban would protect the American people from exposure to chrysotile asbestos, a known carcinogen, and demonstrates significant progress in our work to implement the TSCA law and take bold, long-overdue actions to protect those most vulnerable among us.”
The proposed rule would ban chrysotile asbestos, the only known form of asbestos that’s currently imported into the U.S., which is found in products like asbestos diaphragms, sheet gaskets, brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes/linings, other vehicle friction products, and other gaskets also imported into the U.S.
This proposal would rectify a 1991 court decision that largely overturned EPA’s 1989 ban on asbestos that significantly weakened EPA’s authority under TSCA to address risks to human health from asbestos or from any other existing chemical. With the 2016 amendments to TSCA, the law was radically transformed with clear requirements and a mandate to comprehensively prioritize and evaluate chemicals and put in place strong and timely protections against any unreasonable risks.
EPA is also proposing targeted disposal and recordkeeping requirements in line with industry standards, Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements, and the Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). The proposed disposal and recordkeeping requirements would take effect 180 days after the effective date of the final rule.
Use of asbestos in the U.S. has been declining for decades, and its use is banned in over 50 countries. Although there are several known types, the only form of asbestos known to be currently imported, processed, or distributed for use in the United States is chrysotile. Raw chrysotile asbestos currently imported into the U.S. is used exclusively by the chlor-alkali industry. Most consumer products that historically contained chrysotile asbestos have been discontinued. In December 2020, EPA issued a final risk evaluation that found unreasonable risks to human health from conditions of use associated with six categories of products.
To address these unreasonable risks, the proposed rule would prohibit manufacture (including import), processing, distribution in commerce, and commercial use of chrysotile asbestos for six categories of chrysotile asbestos-containing products: asbestos diaphragms, sheet gaskets, oilfield brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, other vehicle friction products, and other gaskets. The proposed prohibition on the manufacture, processing, and distribution in commerce will also address consumer exposure to chrysotile asbestos. The prohibitions relating to asbestos diaphragms and sheet gaskets for commercial use are proposed to take effect two years after the effective date of the final rule; the proposed prohibitions relating to oilfield brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, other vehicle friction products, and other gaskets for commercial use are proposed to take effect 180 days after the effective date of the final rule.
Chlor-alkali chemicals are used in sectors important to the national economy and in operations that can help protect human health such as drinking water treatment, which uses chlorine manufactured through the chlor-alkali process. While chlorine is a commonly used disinfectant in water treatment, there are only 10 chlor-alkali plants in the U.S. that still use asbestos diaphragms to produce chlorine and sodium hydroxide. One plant is expected to close this year. The nine remaining chlor-alkali plants using asbestos diaphragms range in age from 40 to 123 years old and none have increased use of asbestos diaphragms in approximately 17 years. The use of asbestos diaphragms has been declining and these remaining plants only account for about one-third of the chlor-alkali production in the country. Alternatives to asbestos-containing diaphragms for chlor-alkali plants exist, and the use of alternatives, specifically membrane cells, accounts for almost half of the country’s chlor-alkali production.
In addition to addressing the significant human health effects of chrysotile asbestos exposure, the proposal, if finalized, is also expected to generate health benefits from reduced air pollution associated with electricity generation as chlor-alkali production is one of the most energy-intensive industrial operations. Environmental justice concerns in communities surrounding some of the affected chlor-alkali facilities and other chemical manufacturers would also benefit from reduced levels of soot and other air pollution from the electricity generation needed to support these facilities.
Separately, EPA is also evaluating legacy uses and associated disposals, other types of asbestos fibers in addition to chrysotile, and conditions of use of asbestos in talc and talc-containing products in a supplemental risk evaluation for asbestos. EPA released the draft scope for the second part of the asbestos risk evaluation in December 2021 and will publish the final risk evaluation by December 1, 2024.
EPA will accept public comments on the proposed rule for chrysotile asbestos for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register via docket EPA-HQ-OPPT-2021-0057 at https://www.regulations.gov.
OSHA Initiates Enforcement Program to Identify Employers Failing to Submit Injury, Illness Data
OSHA is initiating an enforcement program that identifies employers who failed to submit Form 300A data through the agency’s Injury Tracking Application (ITA). Annual electronic submissions are required by establishments with 250 or more employees currently required to keep OSHA injury and illness records, and establishments with 20-249 employees classified in specific industries with historically high rates of occupational injuries and illnesses.
The program matches newly opened inspections against a list of potential non-responders to OSHA’s collection of Form 300A data through the ITA and reports all matches to the appropriate OSHA area office. If the area office determines that the establishment on the list is the same establishment where the inspection was opened, OSHA will issue citations for failure to submit OSHA Form 300A Summary data.
In addition to identifying non-responders at the establishment level, the agency is also reviewing the 2021 submitted data to identify non-responders at a corporate-wide level. This corporate level review is being conducted for the nation’s largest employers.
OSHA developed the program in response to recommendations from the Government Accountability Office to improve reporting of summary injury and illness data.  The initiative will begin in early April.
“OSHA believes that it is vital for the public to have access to illness and injury information that employers provide in their annual submissions,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. “We are committed to enforcing this important requirement and will continue to look for strategies to reach full compliance.”
The agency is also posting ITA data as part of its electronic recordkeeping requirements for certain employers. By mid-March, 289,849 establishments had submitted their OSHA Form 300A information.
Public access to injury and illness data for industries, companies and establishments allows employers, workers, potential employees, and others to better understand workplace safety and health outcomes at an employer or industry, allowing them to make valuable insights and informed decisions. Employers of all sizes can use this data to benchmark with others in their industry or compare results across their operations. This accessibility will help identify and mitigate workplace hazards, and ultimately result in the reduction of occupational injuries and illnesses.
Amendments to the e-Manifest Regulations Proposed
EPA is proposing changes to manifest regulations for shipments of hazardous waste that are exported for treatment, storage, and disposal. EPA is also proposing regulatory changes to the RCRA hazardous waste export and import shipment international movement document-related requirements to more closely link the manifest data with the international movement document data. In addition, EPA is proposing regulatory amendments to three manifest-related reports (i.e., discrepancy, exception, and unmanifested waste reports) and is requesting public comment on changes to the manifest form. EPA is also requesting public comment with respect to how the Agency can begin to integrate biennial reporting requirements with e-Manifest data. Comments must be received on or before May 31, 2022. To submit comments, go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: https://www.regulations.gov, and follow the online instructions for submitting comments.
Cal/OSHA Reminds Employers to Protect Outdoor Workers from Heat Illness
Cal/OSHA is reminding all employers to protect outdoor workers from heat illness as the National Weather Service has issued heat advisories throughout the state this week. Employers in California must take steps to protect outdoor workers from heat illness by providing water, rest, shade and training.
When working in these hotter conditions for the first time this year, workers should be closely observed for any signs of heat illness.
Cal/OSHA’s heat illness prevention standard applies to all outdoor worksites. To prevent heat illness, the law requires employers to provide outdoor workers fresh water, access to shade at 80 degrees and whenever requested by a worker, cool-down rest breaks in addition to regular breaks and maintain a written prevention plan with training on the signs of heat illness and what to do in case of an emergency.
It is important for employers to assess the risk of heat illness based on a worker’s duties and take appropriate steps to prevent them from getting sick. Regardless of the level of risk, all outdoor workers must be protected equally and employers with outdoor workers must maintain an effective heat illness prevention plan year-round.
Employers with outdoor workers in all industries must follow these heat illness prevention requirements:
  • Plan – Develop and implement an effective written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures.
  • Training – Train all employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention.
  • Water – Provide drinking water that is fresh, pure, suitably cool and free of charge so that each worker can drink at least 1 quart per hour and encourage workers to do so.
  • Rest – Encourage workers to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating. Workers should not wait until they feel sick to cool down.
  • Shade – Provide proper shade when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Workers have the right to request and be provided shade to cool off at any time.
Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention special emphasis program includes enforcement of the heat regulation as well as multilingual outreach and training programs for California’s employers and workers. Details on heat illness prevention requirements and training materials are available online on Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention web page and the 99calor.org informational website. A Heat Illness Prevention online tool is also available on Cal/OSHA’s website.
Missouri Contractor Fined $796K for Exposing Workers to Cave-In Hazards in Unprotected Trench
Nearly five years after an employee died in a trench collapse, a Missouri contractor exposed two workers to the life-threatening risk of being buried by thousands of pounds of soil as they worked in an unprotected trench weakened by water pooling in an excavation site.
On Oct. 14, 2021, OSHA inspectors observed two employees of Arrow Plumbing installing water piping in a trench at an Eagle One residential construction site and identified 12 alleged violations. The agency cited the Blue Springs company and owner Rick Smith for four willful violations, one repeated violation and seven serious violations of federal standards. OSHA proposed $796,817 in penalties.
“Even though Arrow Plumbing and owner Rick Smith agreed to implement a comprehensive trench safety program after a previous fatal trench collapse, employees were again found to be working in an unprotected trench,” said OSHA Area Director Karena Lorek in Kansas City, Missouri. “This conduct is unacceptable, and OSHA will do everything possible to hold Mr. Smith accountable for failing to protect his workers.”
Following the October investigation, OSHA cited Arrow Plumbing for two instances of willfully allowing workers to enter the trench without providing cave-in protection, as well as willful citations for allowing water to accumulate in the trench, which compromised the integrity of the excavation’s walls, and failing to keep soil piles at least 2 feet from the edge of the excavation. The company also allowed workers to walk under suspended loads, failed to provide hardhats, used ladders improperly, failed to train workers and exposed them to struck-by hazards.
Arrow Plumbing has a significant history of OSHA violations. Following the fatality investigation in 2016, the company resolved federal safety citations by agreeing to comply with the terms of a settlement agreement entered before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission in 2018. The agreement required the company to hire a safety consultant to design and implement a trench safety program and ensure employees complete OSHA construction and trenching and excavation training courses. However, Arrow Plumbing did not hire a safety consultant until Feb. 1, 2021 – three years after it promised to do so. The agreement also called for the company to pay $225,000 in previous fines via five payments of $45,000 over four years. To date, Arrow has only made one payment.
In August 2020, OSHA cited the company again after it discovered an employee working in another unprotected trench in Grain Valley. The company has contested the citations.
“Arrow Plumbing and Rick Smith’s extensive history of OSHA inspections and their agreement with OSHA appear to have had little impact on their daily operations and their promise to implement OSHA and industry-recommended safety precautions. All of this, despite knowing firsthand how deadly a trench collapse can be,” said OSHA acting Regional Administrator Steven J. Kaplan.
From 2011-2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 166 workers died in trench collapses. In 2019, OSHA reports at least 24 workers died while working on trenching and excavation projects.
OSHA has a National Emphasis Program on trenching and excavations. Trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet, and soil and other materials kept at least 2 feet from the edge of a trench. Additionally, trenches must be inspected by a knowledgeable person, be free of standing water and atmospheric hazards and have a safe means of entering and exiting prior to allowing a worker to enter.
The National Utility Contractors Association has declared June 2022 “Trench Safety Month.” OSHA will collaborate with the association for “Trench Safety Stand-Down” week, June 20-24.
OSHA’s trenching and excavation webpage provides additional information on trenching hazards and solutions, including a safety video.
EPA Reaches Settlement Regarding Regulations to Protect Ozone Layer
The EPA recently announced a settlement with JTR Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc. in Monee, Illinois, to resolve alleged violations of Clean Air Act stratospheric ozone regulations.
EPA’s consent agreement and final order with JTR resolves alleged violations of regulations regarding the protection of the stratospheric ozone layer. JTR handles the maintenance, service, repair and disposal of appliances containing ozone-depleting refrigerants and their substitutes. EPA regulations prohibit anyone from knowingly venting or otherwise releasing refrigerant to the environment during work on appliances. EPA alleged that on at least two separate occasions, JTR knowingly vented R-22 and R-410a refrigerant during servicing of those appliances. Under the settlement, JTR will pay a $28,919 civil penalty and resolve the alleged violations.
Releases of refrigerants like R-22 deplete stratospheric ozone and violate requirements under the Clean Air Act National Recycling and Emission Reduction Program. The National Recycling and Emission Reduction Program governs the management of ozone-depleting substances and substitutes and implements the United States’ mandates under the 1991 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. R-410a is a substitute refrigerant, and, while not ozone-depleting, has a global warming potential of 2,090 times carbon dioxide and is prohibited from being directly released to the atmosphere.
The ozone layer protects the earth from the adverse effects of ultra-violet radiation which is known to cause cancers, immune system suppression, and cataracts. In addition, excessive UV radiation can harm crops, plankton production, and the marine food chain.
TCEQ Announces Texas Environmental Excellence Award Winners
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is pleased to announce the 2022 Governor’s Texas Environmental Excellence Award winners.
This year’s winners include a Dallas-area youth who boosted the solitary bee population in the native Blackland Prairies by creating sustainable pollinator zones and developing wildflower seed balls to foster pollinator gardens in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex region.
A Texas school system was also recognized for its innovative approach to achieving energy and water savings through conservation and increased efficiency. The program features opportunities for local educators that allows students to take energy readings before and after lighting upgrades, quantifying the efficiency of the new technology.
TCEQ applauds the creativity and resourcefulness of this year’s complete list of TEEA winners and finalists.
Free Amazon HD 10 Tablet with RCRA and DOT Training
Annual training is required by 40 CFR 262.17(a)(7).  Learn how to complete EPA’s new electronic hazardous waste manifest, and the more than 60 changes in EPA’s Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule.  Environmental Resource Center’s Hazardous Waste Training is available at nationwide locations, and via live webcasts.  If you plan to also attend DOT Hazardous Materials Training, call 800-537-2372 to find out how can get your course materials on an Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet at no extra charge.
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