When Was Asbestos Banned?
The United States has not banned asbestos. Its use is limited and restricted by many laws, but it is still allowed for some uses. Courts have struck down proposed bans saying they needed to be narrower. The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a ban in 2022, but it is not law yet.
Humans discovered asbestos in 1823 and began commercially mining it in the 1890s. 1918 saw the first patients treated for harm caused by asbestos. Shortly after that, insurance companies refused to insure asbestos workers. Tiny fibers can get in the air and injure people’s lungs. They proved the substance harmful and tried to ban it.
However, the United States has not yet banned the use of asbestos, although many uses are restricted or barred. We also use much less of it because of the successes of lawsuits, including those handled by The Lanier Law Firm. And U.S. courts have found some businesses liable for massive fines for using asbestos and knowing (or because they should have known) that it causes cancer, including mesothelioma.
Is Asbestos Banned in the U.S.?
In 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new set of asbestos regulations that would ban all asbestos. This proposed rule needs to pass through several more phases before it would be considered the law. Congress has also proposed several asbestos bans.
In the U.S., asbestos use is still legal in certain situations. However, many uses are banned, and sites must have very low levels of airborne asbestos. But old asbestos still surrounds us.
Many studies tracked the dangers of asbestos worldwide from the 1930s to today. There is clear scientific consensus that asbestos kills people even at very low levels. Any amount of asbestos exposure, even a single piece of asbestos, can lead to mesothelioma, lung cancer, or other asbestos-related diseases.
Where Is Asbestos Still Used Today?
Several industries still use asbestos: automobile, manufacturing, and construction. While these uses are limited, asbestos is still mined in the U.S. and is imported from other countries.
The following products are where the majority of asbestos in the U.S. is still used:
- Roofing: 61 percent of products
- Gaskets: 19 percent of products
- Friction products (such as brake shoes and clutches): 13 percent of products
Where Can You Still Find Old Asbestos?
After the discovery of asbestos, it was used for many years in construction and manufacturing. Asbestos was cheap and provided a unique set of properties for insulating and more. When the United States regulated it, they never removed it from the homes and workplaces where it was already in place.
Common places old asbestos can still be found in the U.S. include:
- Textured paints
- Brake pads
- Cement pipes
- Ceiling tiles
- Spray-on compounds
- Insulation, including wall, ceiling, stove, furnace, and pipes
- Home appliances
- Heat-resistant clothing
While the U.S. (and other countries worldwide) bans most of these uses today, construction and other industries used asbestos extensively until the mid-1970s. If you have an older home, you probably have asbestos. But it is not likely to harm you if it isn’t disturbed or dispersed into the air. However, any level of exposure can be potentially harmful.
Asbestos Bans in Other Countries
Around the world, nearly 70 countries have banned asbestos. Almost all of Europe bans it, as do countries on every continent. The World Health Organization (WHO) urges all countries to ban the substance.
The History of Asbestos Bans
Doctors first recognized asbestos-related diseases in 1918. From that point on, scientists and doctors have studied asbestos, finding more conditions and deaths caused by asbestos every year. They also found that asbestos exposure could be minimal and still cause harm.
From 1938 to the present, regulations banned some uses of asbestos but not others. These regulations recommended lowering asbestos exposure but not stopping it entirely. The asbestos industry has used its power to avoid a total ban.
The U.S. Public Health Service recommended a limit of 5 million parts per cubic foot in 1938. Congress did not pass the law, ensuring it remained merely a recommendation. Over the years, several limits have been recommended, shot down by governments, but adopted by private agencies. Starting in 1951, some government agencies began adopting these limits.
By 1970, we knew that asbestos causes asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma to workers and, in some cases, their families. The proposed level of 5 million parts per cubic foot was far too small for anyone to see, yet even this limit may be too high. That same year, the Occupational Health and Safety Act allowed regulation of exposure standards and work practices, as well as monitoring, medical surveillance, labeling, protective equipment, and record keeping.
The Environmental Protection Agency banned the spray application of asbestos in 1973, making it illegal to make boilers and pipes with asbestos. By 1976, studies showed that asbestos exposure had no safe limits. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended a ban as the only safe limit, but no ban was enacted.
The following year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned asbestos from artificial fireplace embers and joint wall patching compounds. The Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare sent a three-page warning to doctors in 1978. In 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that any regulation must come with two full risk analyses, one of the proposed changes and one without. This slowed down the pace of enacting any new regulations. In 1983, the Environmental Protection Agency listed it as a carcinogen.
The courts also dismantled a proposed ban from 1989. In 1990, the recommended level dropped to 0.2 fibers/m3. Still, companies continue to use asbestos in many construction and automobile applications though there are no products manufactured with asbestos for use by the general public.
In 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new set of asbestos regulations that would ban all asbestos. This follows a complete study that rises to the standards of the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling. We must wait to see if that rule stands up in court.
Where Is Asbestos Still Legal?
On July 12, 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned most asbestos products. However, the courts overturned it, and the U.S. still imports asbestos from abroad.
Asbestos exists all around us. Homes built in 1981 and before may have asbestos in it. Most industrial buildings also have asbestos. Its use in homes was phased out by 1986. Despite the regulations that have been enacted lessening the use of asbestos, we remain surrounded by it.
What Are the Laws Regarding Asbestos in
the United States?
The United States has several laws governing asbestos use but no general ban. Federal Agencies have chipped away at some of the most dangerous asbestos exposures.
Some of the organizations and laws related to regulating asbestos use include:
- Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986: Requires standards for inspecting and removing asbestos in schools.
- Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976: Gives the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate asbestos.
- Medical Device Amendments of 1976: Allows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of filters in the pharmaceutical industry.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Oversees assessment, monitoring, medical surveillance, and the communication of hazards; it also has a training program for asbestos removal.
- Consumer Product Safety Act of 1972: Bans artificial fireplace embers and wall-patching compounds with asbestos.
- Clean Air Act of 1970: Classifies asbestos as a hazardous air pollutant and gives the power to regulate the use and disposal of asbestos; amendments banned asbestos pipes, block insulation, and spray-applied asbestos products.
Several other laws regulate asbestos for drinking water, mine safety, and more. And the Environmental Protection Agency is currently proposing another ban. Several asbestos bans sit before the 2023 Congress. It’s impossible to know if any of these bills will become laws. If the past is a guide, asbestos will be regulated to a finer level, but we may not see a total ban for a long time to come.
If you have been exposed to asbestos and developed mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis, contact The Lanier Law Firm. We have experience with winning and settling asbestos litigation and can help guide you through the arduous process of getting compensation and holding the companies that exposed you to asbestos accountable.