WASHINGTON -- A U.S. appeals court in New Orleans struck down yesterday major parts of a far-reaching ban by the Environmental Protection Agency on asbestos products, ruling that the agency had not adequately considered alternative regulation short of the prohibition.
The ruling upheld the provisions of the agency's 1989 phaseout of asbestos use that are already in effect but sent provisions that would have taken effect in 1993 and 1996 back to the agency for further proceedings.
The decision was issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which has handled previous asbestos cases.
Asbestos, a durable, heat-resistant mineral once widely used in building and consumer products, insulation and heat-bearing components, is a carcinogen that also is thought to be responsible for debilitating lung ailments in those who inhale its fibers.
Many of the diseases associated with loose asbestos fibers do not develop until two or three decades after exposure, experts say.
The asbestos industry said yesterday's ruling cleared the way to continue using the material in automobile parts such as brakes and clutch facings, and in other products subjected to friction.
Asbestos would have been banned from those products in 1993, and additional uses would have been ruled out in 1996.
Robert J. Pigg, president of the Asbestos Information Association-North America, an industry group, welcomed the ruling as a "critical step in the right direction."
"We have known for many years that asbestos can be safely and securely bound in today's products, as long as carefully controlled manufacturing and installation processes are employed," Mr. Pigg said. "We are glad to see the court agrees that the evidence supports this view."
The EPA had no immediate comment on the ruling or whether it would appeal.