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Asbestos Regulations in the US – Toward a Ban?

In the United States, asbestos has not yet been banned. That being the case, there have been rules and regulations put in place that are meant to limit and control its use. Asbestos is a very dangerous material, as just the slightest amount of exposure can lead to an asbestos-related disease. Based on an article written in 2017, at that point, asbestos was killing approximately 12,000-15,000 Americans each year.

History

Many countries in the developed world have completely banned the use of asbestos, however the US has not jumped on that train. Asbestos is still used in the US today. However, there have been institutes and organizations that have highlighted the negative effects of asbestos and have led the way towards a complete ban. In 1976, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended a ban on asbestos in US workplaces. Decades earlier, in January of 1928, The Journal of the American Medical Association wrote an editorial about asbestosis, highlighting the dangers of asbestos.

Asbestos has a long history in the US. In 1874 a pipe covering that was partially made from asbestos was created by H.W. Johns company. The notorious asbestos making company, Johns-Manville, released an advertisement in 1906 in The Saturday Evening Post stating that asbestos “Serves More People in More Ways than any institution of its kind in the World.” Furthermore, by the 1960s and 1970s, more than 700,000 tons of asbestos were consumed in the US each year; an astonishing number based on how harmful the material is. By 2000, due to regulations put in place and from victims of asbestos-related disease seeking compensation from companies, that number of consumption dropped to 14,600 tons a year.

Although many companies stopped producing products with asbestos in them, production did not seize all together. Contrarily, in 2015, the US produced 343 tons of asbestos each year, at this point being fully aware of the negative health effects. Long before this, in 1930, the Journal of the American Medical Association informed physicians that there was a link between asbestos and the development of asbestosis. By the mid-1930s, asbestos was recognized as being hazardous. In the mid-1930s reports began to arise of those who worked with asbestos getting lung cancer.

World War II

Regulations began to be put in place to limit the use of asbestos, but then World War II came along, changing the whole trajectory of asbestos use in the US. Asbestos was used during the war because of its heat resistant capabilities, its strength and its cost effectiveness. It was used to insulate both ships and equipment. The US Navy used asbestos for a variety of things, including in gaskets, valves, for insulating piping and for insulating steam turbines.

Study

In 1960, mesothelioma came to the forefront, when 33 cases of the rare disease were published. 32 of the 33 people that were diagnosed with mesothelioma worked in a mining region in which asbestos was present in South Africa. Just three years later, 120 mesothelioma cases were detected in this area. This was a cause for concern to the United States, and a study on mesothelioma in the US took place.

More Regulations

The US proposed limits on the amount of asbestos workers could be exposed to. The US Public Health Service set a limit in 1938 of 5 mppcf (millions of particles per cubic foot of air) as guidance. This limit stayed as the recommendation for more than 30 years. In 1968 the suggested limit changed to 2 mppcf or 12 fibers/milliliter. However, between the years of 1946 and 1970, the 5 mppcf limit was followed by many states in the US.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1970. For 25 years after this Act was passed, asbestos was being controlled at a somewhat rapid pace. For instance, both NIOSH and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) produced standards for asbestos. In 1971, OSHA passed its first regulation on asbestos for industries. In 1972, NIOSH submitted their first Criteria Document for asbestos standards to OSHA. Included in this document were recommendations for PPE, clothing, record keeping, work practices, labeling, medical surveillance and exposure limit. Later in 1972, OSHA put out a final standard on asbestos. In 1973, the EPA put a ban in place on all asbestos-containing surfacing materials applied by spray in insulation and fireproofing. This applied to pipes, buildings, structures and conduits having over 1% asbestos. This led to more asbestos-related bans by the EPA in the coming years. In 1975, asbestos was named a human carcinogen by the EPA. In 1976, NIOSH published a Revised Recommended Standard for Asbestos, stating that exposure to all types of asbestos could cause cancer, even if someone was only exposed for as little as one day and there was no safe level of exposure. The agency ended up suggesting that asbestos be banned entirely.

A Joint Approach

1979 is when NIOSH and OSHA joined forces, forming a joint Working Group. This group made the monumental statement that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure, and that the permissible exposure limit was incorrect. Despite this, it was difficult to completely ban the use of asbestos in the US because of the interests of industries and big companies. After many different attempts and mitigation and many different proposals, the EPA banned most asbestos-containing products in 1989, under the Toxic Substances Control Act. However, this ban was not to last long; its tenure was short lived. The ban was appealed and vacated and parts of it were remanded. Many asbestos-containing products already in the market were allowed to stay in the market in the US. Some of these products include vinyl floor tile, clothing, cement flat sheet, disk brake pads, clutch facings, roofing felts, gaskets and much more. Only a limited number of products ended up being banned, including commercial paper, specialty paper, corrugated paper, roll board and flooring felt. New uses of asbestos were also banned. The Clean Air Act banned other uses of asbestos such as asbestos block insulation on facility components, asbestos pipe insulation and more.

Despite regulations and bans put in place, it is evident that more needs to be done to ensure that asbestos is no longer used in the US. There is no safe level of exposure and even inhaling a small amount can lead to cancer.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma, please call the Halpern Law Firm at (800) 505-6000. With over 30 years of experience and over $100 million won for our clients we are here to help get you the compensation you deserve. For more information fill out our form.

Sources:

https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/14/11/1302

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/index.htm

Written By Sadie Gold

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