WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency is calling for an immediate ban on some products made with asbestos and the phasing out of the manufacture and import of many other items using the cancer-causing material, an agency spokesman said Wednesday night.
The sweeping EPA plan, to be formally announced today by agency chief Lee M. Thomas, contains three alternatives for restricting and banning a wide range of asbestos products, spokesman Dave Ryan said.
"Asbestos is a definite human carcinogen, with no qualifiers, in both short-term or long-term exposures," Ryan said in a telephone interview. "We just can't let this situation continue."
Many scientists say asbestos fibers, when breathed, can cause lung cancer, other lung disorders and a cancer of the lining of the chest or abdominal cavity as long as 40 years after exposure.
The agency said its proposal would prevent 1,900 cancer deaths a year.
The first alternative in the EPA proposal calls for an immediate ban on asbestos clothing, asbestos cement pipe and fittings, vinyl asbestos floor tile, and asbestos roofing and flooring felt. Felt is a thin, paperlike backing material used to prevent corrosion and to help insulate.
The plan also would phase down the amount of the substance imported or mined over 10 years, Ryan said.
Another alternative would immediately ban asbestos construction products, including asbestos cement sheets and shingles, and would outlaw some asbestos friction products, such as brake drums, in five years. Under that proposal, the EPA would gather exposure information on remaining asbestos products and propose additional bans.
A third alternative, Ryan said, would ban all asbestos construction products and clothing immediately, ban asbestos friction products in five years and ban remaining asbestos products during the next 10 years. Such products would include asbestos textiles used for items other than clothing; asbestos yarn; asbestos gaskets; and asbestos packing, which reduces friction in machines.
Ultimately, Thomas will make the final choice among the alternatives in the proposal, Ryan said.
Other asbestos items targeted for eventual extinction include plastics, adhesives, sealants, paints and coatings, Ryan said. He detailed the agency's proposal after a report on NBC News, which disclosed that the EPA would announce the asbestos-banning proposal today.
B. J. Pigg, head of an industry trade group, the Asbestos Information Institute, attacked the agency's plan.
"We oppose EPA's proposal as being unwarranted," he said in an interview. "It's inconsistent with the international consensus, which favors controlled use of asbestos."
Ryan said the EPA plan would probably be published in the Federal Register in the next week. After that, public hearings would be scheduled, starting three to four months after publication, and public comment would be submitted to the agency for 90 days after the proposal appeared in the Register.
New Draft of Rules
Last month, the EPA sent the Office of Management and Budget a new draft of the proposed rules, which budget officials had blocked nearly a year ago.
By law, the EPA must send the budget office its proposed regulations before publication in the Federal Register. The OMB can refuse to approve the regulations indefinitely unless a court or Congress orders them published.
Ryan said the new proposal "came out of OMB just about the way it went in."