Yesterday, architects and designers took to Twitter to voice their concerns over the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed Signification New Use Rule (SNUR) that would allow manufacturers and importers to seek the agency's approval to reintroduce asbestos into their manufacturing or processing of certain products. Fearful of what this policy could mean for the building industry, AIA members called on their Institute to respond. Today, AIA 2018 president Carl Elefante, FAIA, released a statement.

“The AIA strongly opposes the EPA’s proposed rule," he said in a press release. "Asbestos can cause significant and irreversible risks—including cancer, mesothelioma and other diseases—to those who come into direct contact with friable and airborne asbestos fibers. This is especially concerning for contractors, builders, architects, and homeowners who could be exposed to dislodged asbestos fibers during the demolition and building process if they are unaware of its presence."

According to the same release, the AIA will be submitting formal comments in opposition to the SNUR, which is open for public comment until tomorrow (Aug. 10).

"The EPA has offered no compelling reason for considering new products using asbestos, especially when the consequences are well known and have tragically affected the lives of so many people," the AIA's statement continued. "The EPA should be doing everything possible to curtail asbestos in the United States and beyond—not providing new pathways that expose the public to its dangers.”

While the EPA's original language announcing the SNUR posits this effort as a way to "prohibit or limit the use" of asbestos, many predict this regulation will instead increase instances of asbestos-linked manufacturing following major changes to the agency's safety and security risk evaluation process that was enacted earlier this year. The EPA has opted to exclude air, ground, or water exposure as part of its chemical risk assessments. "Instead, the agency will focus on possible harm caused by direct contact with a chemical in the workplace or elsewhere," according to a June 7 New York Times article.

Read the AIA's accompanying full letter to acting administrator Andrew Wheeler below:

Dear Acting Administrator Wheeler:

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is committed to protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Since 1857, this concern is central to all that we, as architects, do. AIA writes to raise our concern and strong opposition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed Significant New Use Rule for asbestos. The asserted goal of the proposed rule is to create a pathway to consider new uses of asbestos. The AIA opposes this goal, even if on a case by case basis, and feels the EPA should use their existing regulatory authority to establish a blanket ban on the use of asbestos.

The AIA works to advance our nation’s quality of life and protect the public’s health, safety and welfare, as it has done for 160 years. AIA’s over 92,000 members have worked to advance our nation's quality of life through design. From designing the next generation of energy-saving buildings to making our communities healthier and safer, architects play a central role in influencing and improving the built environment through their work.

Historically, architects and other design professionals involved in a construction project strive to avoid liability for hazardous construction materials such as asbestos, lead, PCBs, mercury, etc. Recent lawsuits and regulatory citations have pinned responsibility on design professionals and building owners who seemingly had nothing to do with the exposure that caused, or could cause, a crippling illness.

The handling of asbestos, lead, mercury, PCBs, silica and even mold during any construction project is not construction work - it is hazardous materials work, with completely different liability issues. Companies involved in any facet of a demolition, a renovation, or even a current construction project that fail to grasp this salient fact expose themselves to litigation from injured parties as a result of contact (real or perceived) with hazardous materials. As there is no statute of limitations, lawsuits can, and are, being filed decades after project completion.

Architects are responsible for providing the best possible service to their clients, while also ensuring the use of safe materials. Unless a remediation contractor removes all potentially hazardous materials within or on a building undergoing renovation, previously installed hazardous construction materials may be disturbed during the course of reconstruction. Thus, it becomes incumbent upon project design professionals to take steps to ensure that a design team is assembled that can address those materials properly. It is most time and cost effective to address these materials early in the project design process.

Under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), reauthorized in 2016, the EPA must evaluate and determine whether existing chemical substances pose a risk to the public or the environment. Asbestos causes significant and irreversible risk to those who come into direct contact with friable and airborne fibers. Once asbestos fibers enter the lungs, there is no way to remove them, and they can cause mesothelioma and lung cancer.

This risk is especially acute for those who mine the vermiculite and those who work in demolition construction, but it is also significant for anyone who disturbs the materials once installed, whether homeowners, contractors, facilities staff, or others. This risk far outweighs any benefits that could be considered within the use of asbestos. As part of the Significant New Use Rule, the AIA urges the EPA to rule against the use of asbestos in all cases.

Either by existing authority or through a significant new use rule, the EPA should review and eliminate the use of asbestos in domestic or imported materials. In 2017, the EPA established a final rule to codify the process to evaluate high priority chemicals, while “affirm[ing] EPA’s commitment to following the best available science, engaging stakeholders in the prioritization process, and recognizing the value of designating chemicals as low priority when appropriate.” Given the established health, safety and welfare risks that asbestos poses at all stages of its mining and usage, the AIA urges asbestos to be treated as a high priority chemical that is phased out of usage.

Thank you for your careful review of AIA’s concerns. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any additional questions or would like information from AIA. Again, the AIA strongly opposes the allowance of asbestos in the built environment and beyond.


Sarah Dodge, senior vice president of advocacy + relationships