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EPA moves to phase out asbestos goods.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week proposed banning five widely used asbestos products, then phasing out over 10 years all mining, importation and remaining uses for the mineral. A known human carcinogen, asbestos is capable of causing lung cancer and mesothelioma (a cancer of the chest and abdominal lining). In announcing the proposal, EPA Administrator Lee M. Thomas said that enacting the law could ultimately prevent about 1,900 U.S. asbestos-related cancer deaths.

EPA only began investigating the hazards posed by some of the now-to-bebanned products after French researchers in 1982 pointed out that asbestor-impregnated floor tiles could, through normal wear, release "important" concentrations of the mineral into the air (SN: 7/10/82, p. 22). In addition to vinyl-asbestos floor tile, the new proposal would immediately ban asbestos-containing roofing felts, flooring felts and felt-backed sheet flooring, cement pipe and fittings, and clothing. These products account for an estimated 40 percent of the U.S. asbestos market.

The remaining products would have to be labeled as containing asbestos. EPA is also considering several alternatives for such products. One would ban all construction and clothing uses now, all friction (brake) products within five years and everything else within 10 years. Another would ban clothing and construction products now and phase out the rest over 10 years.

At issue is how quickly substitutes can be found for those products--such as asbestos brake linings -- not immediately banned. Its high tranction and resistance to chemical and thermal breakdown make asbestos ideal for brakes. Though semimetallic materials have been substituted for asbestos in front disk brakes, they provide less traction when new. Using them in rear drum brakes would therefore require redesigning the brake so that it could meet new-car partking-brake standards and not risk becoming overly susceptible to lockup once it wore in and became stronger, according to Robert LeFevre, manager of safety standards on General Motors Corp.'s Environmental Activities Staff in Warren, Mich. In short, LeFevre says, "We do not have materials today that we could substitute for asbestos linings that would allow us to build vehicles that meet the brake standards in place" -- though "we ought to be able to do it within 10 [years]."

Nonasbestos substitutes for the five products initially banned under this proposal would cost an estimated $1.8 billion -- or less than $10 per consumer over 15 years, EPA says.
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Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 1, 1986
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