The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission this week voted unanimously to grant a petition to ban commercial asbestos paper that is sold to consumers or installed in consumers' homes.
The Commission also authorized the staff to continue consideration of a recall of commercial asbestos paper from the consumer market to provide broader protection to consumers from health hazards which may be associated with exposure to fibers of asbestos released from the paper.
Up to several hundred thousand rolls of commercial asbestos paper and asbestos paper tape are purchased annually by consumers or contractors in various thickness up to 1/8th inch, primarily to insulate hot water pipes and heat ducts and for wall protection near appliances such as stoves and ovens. These products also may be used for shelf-lining, kitchen counter protection, dining placemats, automotive muffler repairs, and various other uses in home maintenance and repairs.
A substantial majority of the annual U.S. production of asbestos paper amounting to 600 million pounds (300,000 tons), however, is purchased solely by manufacturers and other industrial users and not offered for direct sale to consumers. Commercial asbestos paper is used for a variety of industrial applications as well as in the production of home appliances and other consumer products requiring insulation from heat sources.
CPSC staff now will prepare the necessary technical support for a proposed regulation to ban commercial asbestos paper sold to consumers and contractors for use in the home. The ban will not extend to manufacturers' use of asbestos paper incorporated into other consumer products; these other uses are being addressed through a separate Commission investigation into asbestos in consumer products. The ban would not become effective until the Commission has solicited and considered all public comment on the proposal and issued a final rule -- a process which may consume several months or more.
CPSC staff plans to continue to secure voluntary corrective actions from U.S. manufacturers and distributors of commercial asbestos paper with the purpose that asbestos paper and tape may be removed from the consumer market possibly before the ban becomes effective. On April 1, one major producer, the GAF Corporation of New York City, agreed to terminate sales of asbestos paper for application in consumers' homes. (Most commercial asbestos paper for consumer use is purchased by private label distributors for resale under their own brand names.)
Concern over the health effects of consumer exposure to asbestos fibers from asbestos paper stems primarily from the release of fibers when the paper is manipulated or cut, or following gradual deterioration or abrasion. Numerous scientific studies have shown links between exposure to asbestos fibers and several forms of cancer, as well as serious lung disease.
CPSC staff sent letters last month to major manufacturers of commercial asbestos paper requesting termination of sales of the product and specific information on its manufacture and marketing. The letters were sent after CPSC received test data on the release of asbestos fibers from normal consumer use of asbestos paper conducted earlier by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
NIOSH informed CPSC that when the asbestos paper is folded, torn or cut, the product released fibers of asbestos to an extent that could produce airborne levels in excess of the NIOSH recommended average level for occupational exposure. On December 13, 1979, the Commission was petitioned to issue a regulation which would ban sales of asbestos paper for use in consumers' homes: the petition was filed by a California resident who is employed in a hardware store where asbestos paper had been sold.
Independent testing of fiber emission levels performed by a private laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., and submitted with the consumer petition, indicated levels of asbestos fiber release of as much as 240 times the NIOSH recommended average level for occupational exposure over an eight-hour workday. The California laboratory test emission levels were recorded after the asbestos paper was manipulated for 10 minutes: the NIOSH testing was performed with a slightly different methodology, resulting in lower emission levels which nevertheless exceeded the NIOSH recommended level.
Within the next several weeks, the Commission will consider issuing a general order seeking specific information from manufacturers, importers and private labelers of certain consumer products containing asbestos, requiring the companies to supply CPSC with data within 60 days on the amount and nature of their use of asbestos in their products.
The information would assist CPSC in its joint effort with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address hazards presented by asbestos exposure in the environment and in consumer products.
CPSC staff advises consumers who believe they may have asbestos paper installed in their homes to leave the product intact, especially if it appears to be in good condition, unless it readily can be disposed of without substantial tearing, cutting or folding of the paper.
Although difficult to identify positively, the product usually can be recognized by its dull gray or chalky surface appearance, and should be dampened with water to reduce potential fiber release before removal and then promptly sealed inside a plastic disposal bag.
About the U.S. CPSC
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risk of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of types of consumer products. Deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product-related incidents cost the nation more than $1 trillion annually. CPSC's work to ensure the safety of consumer products has contributed to a decline in the rate of injuries associated with consumer products over the past 50 years.
Federal law prohibits any person from selling products subject to a Commission ordered recall or a voluntary recall undertaken in consultation with the CPSC.
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