Asbestos: A Brief History And Where It Stands Today

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring, fibrous mineral once used in many products due to its strength and ability to resist heat. Asbestos was used for decades in textile products, automotive parts, home and commercial buildings, naval ships, and much more. However, if asbestos is disturbed, the fibers become airborne, resulting in inhalation or ingestion. There is no “safe” level of exposure to asbestos; even very low levels can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other cancers.

A Brief History of Asbestos

Asbestos use dates back more than 4,000 years ago. However, starting in the late 1800s, it became well understood in medicine, science, and industry that asbestos dust from any source was deadly. In addition, many asbestos manufacturers were aware of the serious health issues surrounding asbestos but kept the information secret.

Current Government Legislation and Regulations for Asbestos

Even though asbestos is banned in some situations by certain federal laws – such as the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Clean Air Act (CAA) and Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) – it is still completely legal to use asbestos in many consumer products. For instance, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), federal law does not ban the manufacturing, distribution or importation of the following products, even if they contain asbestos:

  • Clothing
  • Vinyl floor tile
  • Millboard
  • Roof coatings
  • Disk brake pads
  • Brake blocks
  • Drum brake linings
  • Automatic transmission components
  • Gaskets
  • Cement shingle

The only types of asbestos-containing products that were completely and lastingly banned were spray-on fireproofing by the EPA in 1973, thermal insulation by the U.S. Navy in 1975, and joint compound by the Consumer Products Safety Commission in 1978. In 1989, the EPA attempted to ban all asbestos-containing products, but the corporations sued and got the court of appeal to overturn the ban.

The agency has three years to evaluate asbestos for “unreasonable risk” and then two more years to address reducing that risk. This could be promising for all advocates of a new asbestos ban. However, the current presidential administration’s plan could affect the EPA’s future proceedings on asbestos.

Trump’s Administration and the EPA

Future decisions regarding the EPA and asbestos are still somewhat unclear. President Donald Trump has previously expressed his praise of asbestos and dismissal of the EPA. In his 1997 book, The Art of the Comeback, he absurdly claimed asbestos is “100 percent safe, once applied.” In addition, he is convinced that the efforts against asbestos are a conspiracy instigated by the mob. Though this book is now 20 years old, the evidence of asbestos exposure and its deadly effects are far too widespread to deny.

In addition to President Trump’s previous statements about asbestos, EPA Director Scott Pruitt has been noncommittal in his responses to questions regarding the known carcinogen. In January 2017, senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee received responses to written questions submitted to Pruitt regarding an asbestos ban. Pruitt refused to affirm if he would push through a full ban.

If no decision is made to impose new a full asbestos ban, we can at least hope that the EPA will continue working on its current Superfund cleanup projects. However, that could be at risk as well. In March 2017, the Trump administration released a preliminary 2018 budget in which it proposed reducing the Superfund budget by one-third, which would cut the $1.1 billion allotted to Superfund by $330 million. In fact, the entire EPA budget would be cut by one-third. These Superfund projects include sites like Libby, Montana and other toxic areas recognized as a public health hazard.

The Future of Asbestos Lawsuits

Over the decades, there have been many attempts to pass corporate-sponsored laws that would create barriers for legal action against asbestos companies. Fortunately, these are rarely passed due to the negative impact it could have on asbestos exposure victims and their families. Regardless of what actions are taken on the EPA and its regulations, our attorneys will continue to represent those who have been affected by asbestos and assist in working toward a nationwide and eventually global ban.