Asbestos was a miracle product for the first three-quarters of the 20th century. Businesses used it for construction of buildings, auto parts, naval ships, insulating furnaces, and more. It insulates for both sound and heat. It even resists corrosion. As we now know, however, fibers that become airborne when the asbestos is disturbed can be inhaled or ingested. This causes a variety of illnesses, including mesothelioma, cancer and asbestosis. It is a fact that there are no safe levels where it cannot be harmful.
Laws prohibiting the processing, making and importation of asbestos were first drafted in the 1970s. However, despite the studies and initiatives by OSHA and the EPA, efforts to completely ban asbestos in products here in the United States have been thwarted by industry and politicians sympathetic to their causes. It is no longer mined here, and its use has dropped significantly, but American businesses still import, use and sell raw asbestos and products made with it.
Industry advocates claim that banning asbestos is too costly, and alternatives are no safer. This rationale has, unfortunately, also had great success in court.
A Timeline of Key Moments
Essential policies and rulings include:
- The EPA did a ten-year study costing $10 million and announced in 1989 that it would phase out or ban 90% of products containing asbestos.
- The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit threw out much of the EPA’s rule in 1991 despite proof that asbestos caused fatal illnesses. This ruling subsequently has made it nearly impossible for any government agency to ban asbestos and any other hazardous chemicals.
- A bill drafted in 2002 by Congresswomen Patty Murray of Washington and Barbara Boxer of California was blocked until a gutted version called Ban Asbestos in America could still not get through the House of Representatives.
Some Countries Seeing a Rise in Asbestos Use
While more than 50 countries have placed a ban on asbestos, the U.S. continues to allow its use with countries like China, India, Brazil, and Russia’s use has expanded. The current administration’s appointees to the EPA and other regulatory agencies make it likely that relaxed rules regarding asbestos and other materials could make matters worse. Victims who suffer from asbestos-related illnesses and their families have only one real recourse at this time. That is to pursue legal action with the help of a law firm with experience handling asbestos issues.