Posted on March 30, 2023 

On June 16, 2023, we will celebrate the seventh anniversary of President Barack Obama signing The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (LCSA) into law. Following years of attempts to strengthen the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), LCSA marked a monumental step forward in establishing a new integrated process for prioritizing toxic chemicals and conducting risk evaluations and management. I vividly remember sitting in a Congressional viewing room when President Obama reaffirmed that asbestos was the poster child for TSCA reform, as the EPA had failed to ban asbestos. 

During the signing, President Obama said, “…the system [is] so complex, so burdensome that our country hasn’t even been able to uphold a ban on asbestos–a known carcinogen that kills as many as 10,000 Americans every year. I think a lot of Americans would be shocked by that.”

Following the signing, with massive NGO support, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prioritized asbestos as one of the first ten chemicals for risk review and management. In the past seven years, we have taken many more landmark steps forward in our fight against asbestos. On April 5, 2022, EPA released their proposed chrysotile asbestos rule to ban six conditions of use that “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.”

All forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, are carcinogenic to humans. Once known as the “Magic Mineral,” this recognized human carcinogen was used in many industries, including construction, fireproofing, insulation, petrochemical, automotive, and shipbuilding. Asbestos accounts for most mesothelioma cases and causes several other cancers and fatal diseases. Nearly 40,000 Americans die from preventable asbestos-caused diseases every year, and all forms of asbestos can cause mesothelioma and cancer of the lungs, larynx, and ovaries. 

Today, there are at least seven pathways of asbestos exposure: mining; transportation from mine to plant; storage at plants; processing raw asbestos for use; spillage and clean-up; disposal; and legacy asbestos, which can be found in millions of homes, schools, and workplaces nationwide. It has become clear that asbestos cannot be regulated. Our movement in the past seven years has been good, but it’s not enough. We need a comprehensive ban on asbestos to protect Americans from this deadly substance.  

The Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act (ARBAN) of 2023

I will never forget standing in the room with my daughter Emily as President Obama signed the LCSA. When my husband was first diagnosed with mesothelioma, I had no idea we’d someday get to the point where the government was trying to help us prevent other families from going through this horrific experience. Getting into that room took more than half a decade of work.. However, since then, around 240,000 Americans have died from asbestos-caused diseases. There is still so much work to be done. That’s why we hope that Congress honors this landmark anniversary by moving the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now (ARBAN) Act of 2023 to President Biden’s desk, where it can be signed into law. LCSA helped get us to this point, and we are infinitely grateful for all the EPA has done. However, we need legislation, not regulation, and we can’t wait any longer. 

There is no safe level of asbestos exposure and no controlled use that eliminates risk. ADAO recognizes that EPA’s work on asbestos under TSCA is a meaningful step forward, but legislation is required to truly get the job done. EPA’s proposal would only ban one fiber, chrysotile asbestos, for only six conditions of use. There are Five other deadly fibers and many more conditions of use that must be banned to completelyprotect the public from asbestos. It also does not restrict the importation and use of these five other amphibole asbestos fibers that are equally dangerous; nor does it prohibit current or future uses of chrysotile asbestos beyond the six regulated conditions of use.

Why We Still Need a Legislative Asbestos Ban

We fought hard to have all six asbestos fibers banned; however, the previous Administration selected chrysotile asbestos for review. Because of these gaps and limitations, the proposed rule is not a full asbestos ban. Relying solely on the EPA’s regulation will lead to more time and lives lost. The regulation is subject to legal challenges and lengthy tie-ups in courtrooms. A legislative ban closes loopholes and is more likely to be contested in court.  

To effectively safeguard public health, the five amphibole asbestos fibers (crocidolite (riebeckite), amosite (cummingtonite-grunerite), anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite) must be prohibited, and all conditions for use of chrysotile asbestos must be banned. 

Last year, Biden’s EPA released a detailed report, Economic Analysis of the TSCA Section 6 Proposed Rule for Asbestos Risk Management, Part 1, that further supports the need to ban asbestos, not only regulate via the six limited conditions of use for chrysotile asbestos as defined in EPA’s Part 1 proposed rule.

According to EPA’s economic analysis, eliminating all remaining asbestos use in the chlor-alkali industry is not only feasible but will have economic and environmental benefits. This industry uses asbestos diaphragms to produce chlorine and caustic soda. Asbestos users often cite that chlorine and caustic soda are essential to water treatment, and therefore any reduction in asbestos use would hinder water treatment processes. However, industry reports indicate less than seven percent of chlorine production is dedicated to this use.  The EPA has determined that asbestos use by this industry presents an unreasonable health risk to workers’ health. Other nations worldwide have banned asbestos and successfully met the needs of the water sector’s chlorine and caustic soda demand without using asbestos diaphragms. We must advocate for new and innovative ways to move forward that ensure safety and public health for all. 

Only Three Plants in the U.S. Still Use Asbestos- And Yet, Imports and Use Are on the Rise

Recent data from the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) indicates that the U.S. industry has imported more than 300 metric tons of raw chrysotile asbestos in the first three months of 2023, a sum greater than the total annual asbestos imports from 2022. This represents nearly a 300% increase in asbestos imports.

The chlor-alkali industry is the only industry that continues to import and use raw asbestos. The eight remaining chlor-alkali plants using asbestos diaphragms range in age from 40 to 123 years old; none have increased their use of asbestos diaphragms in approximately 17 years. The use of asbestos diaphragms has been declining, and the remaining plants still using them only account for about one-third of chlor-alkali production in the country. Asbestos-diaphragm processing is outdated, and the industry knows it’s time to move forward with newer, safer technologies. 

According to the World Chlorine Council, 83 percent of plants worldwide produce chlor-alkali using membrane technology. In the U.S., the chlor-alkali industry is the sole importer and user of raw asbestos. According to EPA’s economic analysis, only three U.S. companies, Olin Corporation, Occidental Chemical Corporation, and Westlake Chemical Corporation, use asbestos diaphragms at eight plants. The other 18 companies have invested in innovative alternatives that are economically and environmentally more efficient. 

The chlor-alkali industries’ dependence on asbestos is simply outdated and unnecessary. Last year, Olin Corporation and Occidental Chemical Corporation reduced and/or closed their asbestos diaphragm unit production by over a large amount of chlor-alkali chemicals, citing economic considerations. It is not a question of if these remaining plants will convert to alternative diaphragms, but when. Recently, as a witness for the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Legislative Hearing on S. 4244, it felt as if we were all in agreement that asbestos is carcinogenic. It’s time for industry to get on the same page and protect their workers and the surrounding communities. There is no safe level of exposure — the only remaining issue is the timeline to transition the eight remaining chlor-alkali plants using asbestos diaphragms to non-asbestos alternatives. 

We are so grateful for all the work done since President Obama signed LCSA, and we are thankful for EPA, our Congressional Members, and all ARBAN supporters. We hope Congress will honor this anniversary and take the final step to ban asbestos, for good..  

Linda Reinstein


Linda Reinstein