Brazil Bans Asbestos, Russia Now Sole Source of Carcinogenic Mineral for U.S.
Though asbestos is heavily regulated in the U.S., the manufacture, importation, processing and distribution in commerce of certain products is still legal. Pipeline wrap, brake blocks, gaskets, vinyl floor tile, roofing felt, cement pipe, and millboard are just a few examples. Because asbestos is still legal in the U.S., it is still being imported into the country at an alarming rate. In fact, more than 8.2 million pounds of asbestos were imported into the U.S. from 2006-2014, primarily through ports in New Orleans and Houston. During this decade, New Orleans ports received more than 5.2 million pounds of raw asbestos. Houston received more than 2.3 million.
The amount of asbestos entering the U.S. could soon change, thanks to a move by the Brazilian Supreme Court. Late last year, the Federal Supreme Court handed down a majority verdict prohibiting the mining, processing, marketing and distribution of asbestos in Brazil – currently the world’s third largest producer of chrysotile asbestos. Concluding that there were no safe levels of asbestos exposure, the Court ruled its use should be banned and declared article 2 of federal law 9.055/90, which allowed the “controlled use of asbestos,” unconstitutional.
Around 95 percent of the asbestos used in the U.S. in 2016 was imported from Brazil, with the rest coming from Russia. An estimated 340 tons were used, primarily in the chlor-alkali industry, which produces chlorine (Cl2) and alkali, sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or potassium hydroxide (KOH), by electrolysis of a salt solution. Worth an estimated $13.68 billion, the chlor-alkali industry serves dozens of other industries from food to household goods.
With the recent asbestos ban in Brazil, this industry, and many others that utilize the carcinogenic mineral, will have to find another way. This means either import all of its asbestos from Russia or find a substitute. A few “safer” alternatives include calcium silicate, carbon fiber, cellulose fiber, ceramic fiber, glass fiber, steel fiber, wollastonite, and several organic fibers, such as aramid, polyethylene, and polypropylene.
Including Brazil, more than 60 countries have banned asbestos to date. Canada is next in line. America’s closest neighbor expects to announce a full ban on the importation and use of asbestos sometime in 2018.
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