EPA Asbestos Materials Bans

Many people assume that the use of asbestos is completely banned in the United States, however, this is incorrect.  The use of asbestos has been severely restricted, but the ban, which was enacted in 1989, was overturned two years later in New Orleans’ Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.  As a result, certain products manufactured in the United States are still allowed to contain some asbestos.  Regulations of this toxic mineral fall under one of two federal laws: the Clean Air Act of 1970 (revised in 1990) and the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

The Clean Air Act: Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP)

Asbestos is generally not considered harmful unless the materials that contain it are damaged or crumbly to the touch.  Therefore, the 1990 revisions to NESHAP ban “spray-on application of materials containing more than 1 percent asbestos to buildings, structures, pipes, and conduits unless the material is encapsulated with a bituminous or resinous binder during spraying and the materials are not friable after drying.”  However, this means asbestos-containing spray-on materials like insulation are allowed to have more than 1 percent asbestos if they are encapsulated or if “specified methods are used to clean emissions containing particulate asbestos material before they escape to, or are vented to, the outside air.” NESHAP also bans “wet-applied and pre-formed (molded) asbestos pipe insulation” and “pre-formed (molded) asbestos block insulation on boilers and hot water tanks.”  However, troweled-on surfacing materials that contained asbestos are still considered permissible.

The Toxic Substances Control Act: Asbestos Ban and Phaseout

The Asbestos Ban and Phaseout Rules were largely overturned in 1991, at which time the prohibitions “on the U.S. manufacture, importation, processing, or distribution in commerce of many asbestos-containing product categories was set aside and did not remain in effect.”  However, some items still remain banned: corrugated paper, rollboard, commercial paper, speciality (sic) paper, flooring felt, and other new uses of asbestos. Items not banned under this Act include, but are not limited to, asbestos cement products (sheeting, shingles, pipes, etc.), asbestos-containing clothing, pipeline wrap, roofing felt, vinyl floor tile, millboard, automatic transmission components, friction materials for automotive brakes and clutches, gaskets, and roof coatings.

Limitations of the EPA’s Bans

The EPA’s official statement regarding other products is this: EPA does NOT track the manufacture, processing, or distribution in commerce of asbestos-containing products. It would be prudent for a consumer or other buyer to inquire as to the presence of asbestos in particular products.  Possible sources of that information would include inquiring of the dealer/supplier or manufacturer, refer to the product's "Material Safety Data Sheet" (MSDS), or consider having the material tested by a qualified laboratory for the presence of asbestos. Though the use of asbestos in certain consumer products like textured paints and wall patching compounds has been regulated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, it largely remains up to the individual consumer to determine whether the product he or she is using contains asbestos. Reference:
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  (May 18, 1999). “EPA Asbestos Materials Bans: Clarification.” Retrieved March 21, 2011 from the EPA.