EPA's SNUR Muddies the Waters on Asbestos: Can We Trust the Process?

Did you know that asbestos remains legal in the U.S.? Many people are confused about the legal status of this known carcinogen.

In 2016, President Obama signed a revision of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). It was the law’s first update since it was established in 1976, and it included a mandate for EPA to investigate a full ban of asbestos. Three years later, EPA is looking for something short of a ban & is sending mixed messages regarding the dangers of asbestos.

Building owners & managers are left with uncertainty.

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, EPA Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety & Pollution Prevention, has said that the agency is conducting a risk determination for asbestos, which is on track for completion at the end of this calendar year. The effort will determine whether the manufacture, use, removal, or disposal of asbestos poses an “unreasonable risk” to the environment or to the health of “sub-populations,” such as workers. We know from existing data and from the thousands that die each year that such risk exists.

However, EPA is not considering the risk posed by existing asbestos in buildings as a part of this assessment process. The agency is considering only the risk posed by asbestos-containing materials currently in commerce in the U.S. Since there are very few asbestos-containing products still in commerce, EPA is likely to find that there is no risk and therefore decide to NOT ban asbestos.

Meanwhile, EPA has issued a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR), which will actually ALLOW NEW USES OF ASBESTOS, such as building insulation, plasters, mastics, textured paints & block filler paints for masonry. By opening the door for new uses, EPA adds exposure potential for workers across our economy, from the manufacturing sector to construction & demolition industries.

Also, significant legacy costs will remain for building owners who must continue to comply with OSHA, NESHAP & state laws governing the handling of asbestos. In many cases, leaving asbestos-containing building materials in place is actually safer than removing them, so some potential high cost categories are:

  • Inspection
  • Communication / Labelling
  • Maintenance / Worker protection

It’s important for building owners to get expert advice regarding this complex regulatory situation. KEM stands ready to work with you to implement a program that makes sense in light of the uncertainty surrounding asbestos and a possible ban.