The Environmental Protection Agency took an unusual step last week: It opened a new period in which the public can comment on its proposed asbestos ban. The agency had gotten new information, officials said, including a series of ProPublica reports on dangerous working conditions in factories that use asbestos to make chlorine.
Asbestos has been long known to cause deadly cancers and other serious illnesses. While dozens of countries have [an asbestos ban that] outlawed the substance, the U.S. still imports hundreds of tons each year, mostly for use in chlorine manufacturing.
Last spring, the EPA proposed [an asbestos ban in the US] on chrysotile, or white asbestos, the most common type. People had until July to submit comments. More than 150 did, the EPA said.
In their comments, the chlorine companies said that workers in their plants had handled asbestos safely for decades and that requiring manufacturers to quickly transition to newer, asbestos-free technology could cause a shortage of the chlorine used to disinfect drinking water.
Then, in October, ProPublica revealed that workers in a Niagara Falls, New York, plant were regularly exposed to asbestos until the facility closed in 2021 for unrelated reasons. Experts called the conditions described by workers “unacceptable” and “fraught with danger.” The company that ran the plant, OxyChem, said the workers’ accounts were not accurate but would not specify what information was incorrect. ProPublica’s report also detailed how chlorine companies have quietly fought against a ban for decades, even though they use modern, asbestos-free technology in some of their plants.
ProPublica later reported that workers at four other plants had observed unsafe practices involving asbestos at their facilities, too. One longtime janitor at an Alabama plant run by Olin Corp. said she was given no personal protective equipment, even while pregnant, as she scraped dried asbestos from bathroom floors. Olin did not return repeated calls or emails from ProPublica.
Last Friday, the EPA announced it was publishing additional information it had obtained from chlorine companies and the nonprofit Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization during meetings that took place in recent months. The agency also said it was publishing written comments submitted during that time.
Asbestos-Mesothelioma Case Evaluation
Free. Confidential. No Obligation.