The Environmental Protection Agency has taken an important and sweeping step to eliminate the threat to public health posed by asbestos. The EPA's ban on virtually all remaining uses of the mineral, popular among manufacturers because of its heat resistance, shows that at last the agency is willing to use its broad authority to get rid of toxic substances. The move cannot save the thousands of people already exposed to asbestos particles and thus at risk of lung, chest and stomach cancers, but it clearly will save lives in years to come.
The ban also marks a clear break with the foot-dragging of the Reagan Administration, whose budget office had held up the proposal for years. EPA Administrator William K. Reilly spoke with a directness that has not been heard from that agency in some time when he stated: "This is pollution prevention. We're eliminating a known cancer-causing substance from the marketplace. Virtually all asbestos-containing products will be replaced with safer alternatives."
Under the EPA order, asbestos cannot be used in clothing, floor tile, felt for construction or concrete sheet after August, 1990, although those products can still be distributed for two years after that. Auto-makers must replace asbestos in brakes starting with 1994 models. And asbestos can not be used in coatings, paper products, replacement brakes and cement pipe and shingles after 1996.