AFL-CIO, Building Trades hail EPA’s asbestos ban
Chrysotile asbestos is the only known form of asbestos that is still used in and imported to the US. | Shutterstock

WASHINGTON —The AFL-CIO and building trades unions lauded the Biden administration’s Environmental Protection Agency for banning the last forms of asbestos—the dangerous cancer-causing substance—in the U.S.

Though asbestos use has been drastically cut in the agency’s lifetime, one form of it, chrysotile asbestos, is still present in used car parts, notably brakes, linings, and gaskets. Bans on those uses will take effect in six months.

Past use and exposure to asbestos fibers, often from older buildings, still causes 40,000 deaths annually from lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx, and ovarian cancer. The ban on the final form of asbestos “had been delayed during the previous administration,” EPA said on March 18.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, an Electrical Worker, hailed the ban as “a landmark protection for workers, banning and phasing out all current uses and imports of chrysotile asbestos, and eliminating these exposures in workplaces and throughout the supply chain.”

But both Shuler and Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey also urged EPA to pursue bans on exposure to “legacy” asbestos which endangers workers rehabbing old schools, factories, homes, and businesses.

This ban “does not eliminate all types of asbestos fibers and is only the first half of the EPA’s plans to address worker asbestos exposures,” Shuler warned. Firefighters, construction workers, and factory workers are still “exposed to ‘legacy’ asbestos throughout our old buildings and infrastructure. We urge the EPA to move swiftly to address those risks.”

McGarvey called the asbestos ban “monumentally important.”

“Construction unions have historically been the hardest hit by diseases caused by asbestos” including by exposure when rehabbing old buildings. “Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost their lives due to this toxin. This new…rule is welcomed to ensure chrysotile asbestos will be phased out of all current uses, benefitting not just workers in those industries that are still using asbestos but also workers with exposure throughout the supply chain.

“North America’s Building Trades Unions and its affiliates have been advocating this ban for decades. It’s taken President Biden’s administration to finally listen to science and get this scourge out of” the U.S.

“This incredible step forward does not end the fight to get asbestos out of our workplaces, though. Construction workers continue to be exposed to asbestos that’s been put in place since the 1800s in various construction materials across all industries. While these ‘legacy’ exposures will continue to happen, NABTU continues to support the Environmental Protection Agency’s rulemaking efforts on legacy asbestos.”

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Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.