Many people logically assume that since the deadly health dangers of asbestos exposure are known, it must be banned in the U.S. This is a misconception. In reality, despite the high risks to human health, our government still allows the mineral in several products and uses.
Failed Attempt at U.S. Ban
The closest the U.S has come to such a ban was a significant attempt by the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA in 1989 to ban most products containing asbestos using its regulatory authority under the federal Toxic Substances’ Control Act, known as the TSCA.
The agency’s action was shot down by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in the 1991 case Corrosion Proof Fittings v. EPA in which the court held that the EPA had not shown that a near-complete ban was the “least burdensome” action it could have taken to achieve its goals as required by the TSCA.
Current Asbestos Restrictions
The EPA provides a page on its website explaining current federal restrictions on asbestos. According to this page, federal law prohibits asbestos in:
- Corrugated paper
- Commercial paper
- Special paper
- Flooring felt
- New-use products, those which historically have not contained asbestos
- Pipe insulation
- Certain “block insulation on facility components, such as boilers and hot water tanks”
- Certain spray-on materials
- Artificial fireplace embers
- Wall-patching compounds
This list of products in which asbestos may not be present under federal law leaves it legal to include the mineral in many other products. EPA reports that asbestos may still exist in products like clothing, roofing felt, vinyl floor tile, disk brake pads, drum brake linings, brake blocks, clutch facings, gaskets, roof coatings and many others.
Recent Progress in Federal Asbestos Regulation
The TSCA was recently amended by the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which required the EPA to designate 10 chemicals for its first evaluations for unreasonable risk under that law. As we posted in early December, the EPA has included asbestos on that list.
The agency has six months to create a document detailing its methodology for assessing risks from asbestos, followed by a three-year evaluation period. If unreasonable risk to “humans and the environment” is found, EPA will have two years to reduce that danger.