The Environmental Protection Agency last week proposed a long-expected ban on asbestos in the manufacture of most consumer products and a “phase-out” of remaining uses for the mineral over the next 10 years.
“This proposal starts us down the path that will eventually rid asbestos from our environment,” said Lee M. Thomas, administrator of the E.P.A.
“We expect this rule to be widely and actively debated,” he added. “Ultimately, I believe there can be no debate about the health risks of asbestos.”
The E.P.A. estimates that asbestos fibers are the cause of from 3,300 to 12,000 cancer cases in the United States each year, primarily lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest cavity. In its hazardous fibrous form, asbestos has also been linked to asbestosis, an irreversible lung disease, and other forms of cancer.
Asbestos is present in some 31,000 schools constructed before the mid-1970’s, according to the E.P.A., in the form of pipe insulation and spray-on ceilings. The agency has previously banned these uses of asbestos, but about 240,000 tons of the substance were manufactured in other forms in 1984.
The latest regulatory proposal would prohibit the five most common uses of asbestos: in vinyl-asbestos floor tile, flooring felts, roofing felts, asbestos cement pipe and fittings, and asbestos clothing. Manufacturers “have good access to asbestos substitutes” for use in these products, Mr. Thomas said.
The proposed rule would not ban asbestos in vehicle brake linings “at this time” because substitute materials have yet to be found, he added. Also, the domestic mining and importation of asbestos would be phased out over the next 10 years.
The E.P.A. estimates that the proposal would cost producers and consumers $2 billion over the next 15 years and would prevent about 1,900 cases of cancer.
A year ago, the Reagan Administration came under fire when the E.P.A. unexpectedly postponed a plan to ban asbestos and suggested that the issue might come under the jurisdiction of other federal agencies. The House Energy and Commerce Committee later accused the Office of Management and Budget of “secret and heavy-handed interference” in the matter.
A version of this article appeared in the January 29, 1986 edition of Education Week