The EPA’s recently released report details their new framework for evaluating the risk of substances stating the agency will “no longer consider the effect or presence of substances in the air, ground, or water in its risk assessments.” 1 (If that seems incredibly obtuse to you, you’re not alone. I was so shocked I had to read that statement multiple times to make sure I understood what it was saying!)

“This news comes after the EPA reviewed its first batch of 10 chemicals under the 2016 amendment to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which requires the agency to continually reevaluate hundreds of potentially toxic chemicals in lieu of removing them from the market or placing new restrictions on their use. The SNUR greenlights companies to use toxic chemicals like asbestos without consideration about how they will endanger people who are indirectly in contact with them.”2 


Asbestos was widely used in building insulation until it was completely banned in most countries in the 1970s, although the U.S. just severely restricted its but didn’t completely outlaw it. Perhaps that’s why asbestos-related deaths total almost 40,000 annually, with lung cancer and mesothelioma being the most common illnesses associated with the toxin.3

Why the Deadly Asbestos Industry is Still Alive and Well

Despite irrefutable scientific evidence calling out the dangers of asbestos, 2 million tons of the carcinogen are exported every year to the developing world, where it’s often handled with little to no regulation. For this episode of VICE Reports, correspondent Milène Larsson traveled to the world’s largest asbestos mine in the eponymous town of Asbest, Russia, to meet workers whose livelihoods revolve entirely around the dangerous mineral.

Asbestos poses a major health risk for everyone exposed to it, which includes those who mine it, handle it in industrial facilities, and people near or inside renovation and construction projects where it’s being used. Currently, the only industry that still uses asbestos is the chlor-alkali industry, importing about 480 tons of the carcinogen each year from Russia and Brazil.

“Chlorine-based plastics are commonly found in building-product materials and “virtually all” asbestos in the U.S. is used in the industrial process to make chlorine. This includes PVC and vinyl plastics, which is largely found in the creation of pipes, tiles, flooring, adhesives, paints, and roofing products.”4 And if you stop and think about it, you and I have all those things listed above in our houses. I never knew that we hadn’t fully outlawed asbestos and I never knew that asbestos was used in the creation of pipes or tiles. WE KNOW HOW DANGEROUS IT IS! Why on earth would we still be using it? (If you haven’t yet, please take 20 minutes to watch the video above.)


Although the EPA is easing regulations against integrating the harmful toxin (and others like it) “it will largely be the responsibility of local and state governments, as well as companies and informed consumers to counter these new federal moves.”5 That means it’s up to “we the people” to put the pressure on for more sustainable building products.

The EPA plans to conduct further studies on the first 10 chemicals under the amended TSCA and final risk evaluations will be published in December 2019.

Sources and References

  1. The Architects Newspaper, August 6, 2018.
  2. The Architects Newspaper, August 6, 2018.
  3. The Architects Newspaper, August 6, 2018.
  4. The Architects Newspaper, August 6, 2018.
  5. The Architects Newspaper, August 6, 2018.