Commission To Study Asbestos In Consumer Products

August 31, 1979
Release Number: 79045

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission yesterday approved the opening of a broad investigation of the use of asbestos in various home appliances and other consumer products.

The agency will be seeking asbestos-related information from industry, public interest groups, other government agencies, the health community and other segments of the general public. The information will be received by CPSC during a 60-day period following formal publication of a notice in the Federal Register, expected by mid-October.

Exposure to asbestos fibers may cause cancer or a respiratory disease known as "asbestosis." The Commission is considering alternatives for the regulation of asbestos in consumer products and expects that public comment on the proposals will aid in determining the most effective regulatory approach.

Although worker exposure to asbestos fibers on the job is regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), CPSC believes that asbestos fibers released from consumer products may pose unique problems in households. The household environment may harbor these fibers for long periods, and they may be repeatedly stirred up into the air after having settled to a surface. Infants and children in the home are likely to be exposed, and this environment, unlike the workplace, is not equipped with protective clothing or control systems for asbestos fibers.

Among those items for which the Commission is soliciting public comment and data are:

-- As a general policy, the elimination of all non-essential uses of asbestos in consumer products from which fibers may be released.

-- A methodology by which "essential uses" may be defined.

-- Improvement of CPSC's list of consumer products which have been manufactured with asbestos so that the list is comprehensive and accurate. This list includes, among other things, asbestos paper products, cloth and woven products, asbestos cement products, and products which can be inadvertently contaminated with asbestos.

-- A proposal to set "generic" regulations affecting broad product groups which are likely to emit asbestos fibers (instead of limiting regulation to a product-by-product approach).

CPSC also is seeking public comments on the advisability of quantitative assessments of the cancer risks posed by various levels of exposure to asbestos fibers, as well as whether actual dimensions of asbestos fibers which are "respirable" should be determined. The Commission expects that its notice (in the form of an "Advance Notice of Proposed Rule-Making") will be published at the same time as a similar notice by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA is developing a comprehensive program to address exposure to asbestos throughout its entire life cycle -- from the time it is mined through its use in the workplace, various products and its disposal.

CPSC's close cooperation with EPA is intended to increase efficiency and effectiveness in regulating asbestos, as well as to reduce industry reporting requirements.

Stressing the need to move promptly in its information search, the Commission may send "General Orders" to industry before mid-October, requiring submission of information about asbestos in specific products CPSC staff currently is compiling a list of consumer products which merit first consideration.