Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral once lauded for its versatility, strength and fire-resistant properties.
It is also toxic, responsible for 3,000 malignant mesothelioma cases a year.
More than 50 countries ban asbestos, but the construction and manufacturing industries in the U.S. continue using it.
The U.S. is among the few major industrialized countries that hasn’t entirely banned asbestos in all of its forms.
While highly regulated, it continues to be used in gaskets, friction products, roofing materials, fireproofing materials and hundreds of consumer products as long as it accounts for less than one percent of the product.
Other common asbestos products:
- Brake pads
- Automobile clutches
- Vinyl tile
- Cement piping
- Home insulation
- Some potting soils
Because of its heavy use in construction through the mid-1980s, asbestos is still prevalent in homes, public schools and office buildings today. The abatement and removal of asbestos from these buildings costs state and federal governments millions of dollars each year.
The Rise and Fall of the Asbestos Ban
As the dangers of asbestos became more known in the 1970s, legislation regulating the use of the carcinogenic mineral was implemented.
The Clean Air Act of 1970 was the first major piece of asbestos legislation. The act classified asbestos as a hazardous air pollutant and gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the power to regulate its use and disposal.
Legislators next approved the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976, which gave the EPA authority to place restrictions on certain chemicals, including asbestos, radon and lead-based paint.
The first major asbestos removal legislation was the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986. The act allowed the EPA to establish standards for inspecting and removing asbestos in schools.
All of this led to a full ban in 1989. The EPA’s Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule (ABPR) planned to put an end to the importation, processing, manufacture and distribution of asbestos-containing products.
The asbestos industry criticized the ban, citing it would have monumental job loss and economic consequences.
In 1991, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ABPR after asbestos manufacturer Corrosion Proof Fittings won a landmark suit against the EPA. The case claimed the ban failed to demonstrate why banning asbestos was the “least burdensome alternative” regulating the mineral.
The latest attempt at a full ban came in 2002 when U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced the Ban Asbestos in America Act, also known as the Murray Bill.
The bill passed the Senate, but died in the House of Representatives in 2007.
Banned Asbestos Products
The ABPR did result in several small victories for asbestos regulation, including a ban applying to asbestos products not manufactured, processed or imported before July 12, 1989, when the EPA first announced the ban.
The EPA classifies seven categories of asbestos-containing products that cannot be manufactured in or imported to the U.S.
These include spray-applied asbestos, flooring felt, millboard, commercial paper, corrugated paper, specialty paper and new uses of asbestos.
Article written and contributed by Matt Mauney, a writer at The Mesothelioma Center and Asbestos.com.