Mar 18, 2024 - Health

EPA bans import and use of last form of asbestos in U.S.

A "DANGER" sign warning about the risks of asbestos behind yellow caution tape. The flyer warns that asbestos may cause cancer and lung damage.

An asbestos removal dumpster in Queens, New York. Photo: Lindsey Nicholson/Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday announced a ban on the last form of asbestos still used in the U.S.

Why it matters: The carcinogen is linked to more than 40,000 deaths per year in the U.S., and chrysotile asbestos is still used in certain types of gaskets, car brakes, and other materials, per the EPA.

  • 'The action marks a major milestone for chemical safety after more than three decades of inadequate protections," the EPA said in a statement.

Catch up quick: The final rule announced Monday has been pending since 2016 amendments to the country's chemical safety law.

  • The EPA first banned asbestos in 1989, but a court decision two years later largely struck it down. Still, the use of asbestos in the U.S. has been declining for decades.
  • Chrysotile asbestos, also known as white asbestos, is the only form known to still be "imported, processed or distributed" in the U.S, the EPA said.

Threat level: Roughly 255,000 people around the world die each year from asbestos-related conditions, according to the American Public Health Association.

  • "Asbestos causes mesothelioma and cancer of the lung, larynx, and ovary, in addition to pleural diseases such as asbestosis; it is also strongly associated with cancer of the pharynx, stomach cancer, and colorectal cancer," the group wrote in 2019.
  • "There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, and nearly 70 countries have banned it."

What's next: The import of chrysotile asbestos is banned immediately, but fully phasing out could take anywhere from six months to 12 years in some sectors.

  • "EPA is requiring strict workplace safety measures to protect workers from asbestos exposure during any phaseout periods longer than two years," the EPA statement said.

The bottom line: "It's been more than 50 years since EPA first sought to ban some uses of asbestos and we're closer than ever to finishing the job," Environmental Working Group senior vice president Scott Faber said in the statement.

Go deeper: EPA proposes "historic" plan to ban cancer-causing asbestos

Go deeper