thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
EPA Finalizes Chrysotile Asbestos Ban
On March 18, EPA announced a final rule prohibiting the manufacture, importation, processing, commercial distribution, and commercial use of chrysotile asbestos, the only known form of asbestos currently imported into the United States. The rule is the first to be finalized through a new process that calls for EPA to evaluate and address the safety of existing chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as amended by the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act in 2016. The final rule explains that TSCA requires EPA to “address to the extent necessary the unreasonable risk of injury to health presented by chrysotile asbestos based on the risks posed by certain conditions of use.” The effective date of the rule is May 28, 2024.
One ongoing use to be phased out under the new rule is the use of asbestos diaphragms in the chlor-alkali sector to make sodium hydroxide and chlorine for disinfecting drinking water and wastewater. The rule also bans the use of asbestos in sheet gaskets, brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, and other vehicle friction products.
EPA’s rule immediately bans the import of asbestos for chlor-alkali use but allows time for chlor-alkali plants that use asbestos diaphragms to transition to non-asbestos diaphragms or non-asbestos membrane technology. Eight facilities in the U.S. will need to make changes. EPA expects five of the facilities to convert to using non-asbestos diaphragms within five years. Three other facilities transitioning to non-asbestos membrane technology are expected to complete changes within five to 12 years, and EPA will require affected companies to certify their continued progress toward eliminating asbestos.
Most asbestos-containing sheet gaskets will be banned by May 2026, while bans related to oilfield brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, other vehicle friction products, and other gaskets will take effect in November 2024. The rule carves out exceptions related to sheet gaskets: those used to produce titanium dioxide and for the processing of nuclear material will be phased out over five years, and the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site will be allowed to continue using them through 2037. According to EPA, asbestos-containing sheet gaskets are used to ensure the safe disposal of nuclear materials at the Savannah River Site.
EPA previously issued a final rule banning most products containing asbestos in 1989. The regulation was mostly overturned in a 1991 decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. As a result of the court’s ruling, the regulation banned only new commercial uses of asbestos in products entering the marketplace after 1989. A partial ban on asbestos-containing flooring felt, rollboard, and corrugated, commercial, or specialty paper remained in effect following the court’s decision.
Further information about the new chrysotile asbestos ban can be found on EPA’s website and in the agency’s news release.
A draft scope document published in December 2021 outlines EPA’s plans to evaluate legacy uses of asbestos and associated disposals, other types of asbestos fibers in addition to chrysotile, and conditions of use of asbestos in talc and talc-containing products. The agency plans to publish a draft risk evaluation of these uses soon and intends to finalize the risk evaluation by December 2024.
Biosafety Risk Assessment App Available from WHO
The World Health Organization has launched a biosafety risk assessment app designed to complement the approach outlined in WHO’s Laboratory Biosafety Manual. According to WHO, lab workers can be up to 1,000 times more vulnerable to infections compared to the general population. The new Risk Assessment Tool for Biosafety and Laboratory Biosecurity reflects the first two steps outlined in the manual, which are to gather information and evaluate risks. While the app can perform complex risk calculations, WHO states that the tool should be used only as advice when considering measures to control risk and is not a substitute for a complete manual risk assessment. The app can be downloaded for both Android and iOS devices from the WHO website. The fourth edition of the Laboratory Biosafety Manual is also available for download.
CDC Report Characterizes Waterborne Disease Outbreaks
From 2015 through 2020, Legionella was responsible for 97 percent of hospitalizations and 98 percent of deaths from waterborne disease outbreaks in the United States, according to a report from CDC. Based on information provided by 28 states, the report categorizes outbreaks as either enteric or associated with biofilm pathogens, identifies contributing factors, and describes the settings where outbreaks occurred.
Of the 214 total outbreaks reported by public health officials during the study period, 187 were associated with biofilm, 24 with enteric illness, and one with a chemical or toxin. Two outbreaks had unknown causes. Legionella was the culprit in nearly all the biofilm-related outbreaks. Two involved nontuberculous mycobacteria and one Pseudomonas.
The number of Legionella-associated outbreaks jumped from 14 in 2015 to 31 the following year, growing to 34 in 2018 and dropping to 18 in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic may have affected reporting in 2020, the report states.
Although responsible for nearly all severe outcomes, Legionella caused only 37 percent of illnesses from reported waterborne disease outbreaks. Enteric illnesses accounted for 61 percent of illnesses but only 2 percent of hospitalizations and no deaths. The vast majority of reported enteric illnesses were caused by norovirus, Shigella, or Campylobacter.
More than half of the outbreaks during the study period occurred in healthcare facilities, all of them biofilm related. Other settings with large numbers of outbreaks included hotels, motels, and similar lodging facilities.
For more information, read the March 14 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Cal/OSHA Standards Board Approves Revisions to State Lead Standards
On Feb. 15, the Cal/OSHA Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board approved proposed changes to California’s lead standards, lowering the state’s permissible exposure limit for lead from 50 µg/mg3 to 10 µg/mg3 and its action level from 30 µg/mg3 to 2 µg/mg3 as eight-hour time-weighted averages. According to the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) website, the proposed rule was designed to maintain workers’ blood lead levels (BLLs) below 10 µg/dL, four times lower than the target for existing lead regulations. As of early April, the proposed rule was pending final approval by the state’s Office of Administrative Law and was not expected to become effective before Jan. 1, 2025. The proposal mandates general hygiene requirements whenever workers are exposed to lead, rather than only when workers’ exposures exceed the permissible exposure limit, as under the existing rule. Other changes include lowering the BLL reading that triggers temporary removal from work with lead, or medical removal protection (MRP), from 50 µg/dL to 30 µg/dL. Beginning one year after the proposed rule’s effective date, MRP will be triggered when a worker’s last two BLLs are at least 20 µg/dL or when the average of all BLLs in the last six months is at least 20 µg/dL. Workers’ BLLs must be at least 15 µg/dL before they can return to work involving lead. The current requirement for returning to work is 40 µg/dL. The text of the proposal is available from DIR.
Recent Notices Affect Certain NIOSH-Approved Respirators
Three announcements regarding NIOSH-approved respirators were recently added to the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) website. Two notices announced that NIOSH has honored requests by Honeywell International Inc. and Masprot to voluntarily rescind several respirator approvals issued to the companies. Respirators bearing the approval numbers listed in the agency’s notices are no longer NIOSH approved and may no longer be used, manufactured, assembled, sold, or distributed. NIOSH directs inquiries to Honeywell and Masprot.
Champak Enterprise Co. announced a temporary stoppage of sale for all NIOSH-approved respirators on Feb. 27. According to a communication issued by Champak, NIOSH recently requested an analysis of the quality management system at the company’s manufacturing site in Singapore. The stoppage of sales will continue until NIOSH’s concerns have been addressed, Champak says.
These and other recent respirator-related notices can be found on the NPPTL website.
EPA Finalizes Updates to Risk Management Program Rule
On March 1, EPA announced it had finalized amendments to the risk management program (RMP) rule. According to the agency’s press release, the changes are intended to increase protections for communities, especially those located near facilities regulated under the RMP rule, by improving chemical process safety; assisting in planning, preparing for, and responding to accidents; and increasing public awareness of chemical hazards.
Under the updated rule, covered facilities will be required to evaluate safer technologies and alternatives and implement reliable safeguards in industry sectors with high accident rates. Other changes address employee participation, training, and decision-making in accident prevention, such as by allowing employees to anonymously report unaddressed hazards. Facilities that have reported prior accidents will be required to obtain third-party compliance audits and root-cause analyses. The amendments also aim to improve information sharing and transparency between facilities, emergency responders, and communities.
EPA’s RMP rule requires about 11,470 U.S. facilities that use extremely hazardous substances to develop risk management plans addressing hazard assessment, accident prevention, and emergency response programs. Approximately 131 million people live within three miles of an RMP facility. The updated rule is intended to prevent accidents such as the 2019 explosion and fire in Port Neches, Texas, which caused extensive damage to nearby buildings and led to the evacuation of around 50,000 people.
EPA has also released an online tool that allows users to search for RMP facilities in their locality. More information about the new amendments can be found in the agency’s press release.
Proposed Rule Would Allow NIOSH Approval of Combination Unit Respirators
A new rule proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services would establish a new class of respiratory protective device—combination unit respirators, or CURs—and amend regulatory requirements that NIOSH uses to test and approve respirators. The Federal Register notice outlining the proposal explains that CURs “[employ] the technology of at least two different types of respiratory protective devices, with one being an open-circuit self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and at least one other method being air-purifying or powered air-purifying.” CURs are intended to protect users during entry into or escape from immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) environments, as well as during entry into non-IDLH environments and escape from non-IDLH or IDLH environments depending on the operating mode selected by the wearer.
“A CUR allows the worker to carry or wear one respirator into an environment in which the hazards are either unknown or might change rapidly, and to readily switch between types of respiratory protection after assessing their individual risk,” the Federal Register states.
Current regulations do not allow NIOSH to approve CURs since they are single units within more than one respirator class. The proposed rule would establish performance standards for the agency to approve CURs by incorporating by reference the requirements in chapter 7 of the 2023 edition of NFPA 1987, Standard on Combination Unit Respirator Systems for Tactical and Technical Operations.
Further details can be found in the notice of proposed rulemaking.
Report Addresses Biosafety of Pathogen Research
A new report released by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists offers recommendations for ensuring that research on viral pathogens with the potential to cause a pandemic is conducted safely and responsibly. The report also identifies a need for research on the causes of laboratory mishaps such as splashes and spills of biological materials and the kinds of personal protective equipment necessary to protect researchers in various laboratory environments.
The report acknowledges the importance of research on dangerous pathogens but notes that accidental infection of researchers in laboratories happens more often than is generally recognized. More than 2,300 instances of lab-acquired infections occurred between 1979 and 2015, an average of over 100 per year.
Recent research on spills resulting from handling of microcentrifuge tubes, in which biological materials are typically stored, has prompted labs to investigate other types of storage methods, according to the report.
The report, “A Framework for Tomorrow’s Pathogen Research,” is available online.
CDC Folds COVID-19 Into Updated Guidance for Common Respiratory Viruses
On March 1, CDC released updated guidance intended to help people protect themselves from a range of common respiratory viruses. The recommendations explain the agency’s new “unified approach” to addressing risks from respiratory viral illnesses such as COVID-19, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. The background for CDC’s updated guidance describes COVID-19 as “increasingly similar to other respiratory viruses” but recognizes that differences such as the risk of post-COVID conditions persist.
CDC says it folded COVID-19, which previously had its own set of recommendations, into its overall guidance for respiratory viruses “because the U.S. is seeing far fewer hospitalizations and deaths associated with COVID-19.” As this issue of The Synergist went to press, CDC’s COVID Data Tracker website showed 9,345 COVID-19 hospital admissions in the week that ended Saturday, March 23.
Previous agency guidance for COVID-19 recommended that individuals with illness isolate for a minimum of five days, then take precautions for a period following isolation. CDC’s new guidance for respiratory viruses calls for sick people to isolate until their “symptoms are improving overall” and they are fever-free without medications for at least 24 hours. During the five days after individuals exit isolation, the agency encourages them to use additional prevention strategies like wearing a well-fitting mask, keeping a distance from others, and getting tested for respiratory viruses.
Further details are available in CDC’s press release. The updated guidance can be found on the agency’s website.
EPA Releases Draft Risk Evaluation for Formaldehyde
EPA has released a draft risk evaluation for formaldehyde that “preliminarily” determines the chemical presents an unreasonable risk of injury to human health. But the agency states that uncertainties in its findings indicate that the draft evaluation’s estimates of risk may not represent real-life exposures. The uncertainties stem from exposures to naturally occurring formaldehyde and to other sources not covered in the draft document. Following a public comment period and peer review, the document will be revised and finalized, according to EPA.
The draft is confined to considerations stemming from risks of formaldehyde exposure that are subject to the Toxic Substances Control Act. Other exposures, such as from pesticides, are not regulated by TSCA and therefore were not considered in the draft.
Workers are the population most at risk from formaldehyde exposures, EPA finds, including from inhalation and dermal routes. The draft risk evaluation considers workplace exposures without assuming that workers are wearing personal protective equipment, although EPA acknowledges that many employers take action to protect their employees.
Consumers who use products containing formaldehyde represent another at-risk population. Car waxes, crafting supplies, fabrics, furniture, and other products in homes may be sources of exposure.
A virtual public meeting on the draft risk evaluation will be held May 7, and comments are due May 14. Information about how to participate in the public meeting and submit comments is available in the Federal Register. For background information and additional documents, visit the EPA website.