Towards an Asbestos Ban in the United States

Key Takeaways: Asbestos was first discovered in the early 1820s, and it became widely used by the 1890s because of its durable, fireproof qualities. It was used primarily in construction, either as insulation or as an actual building material. Cases of asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma began being reported in the mid-twentieth century, and a bill passed in 1970 sparked a widespread regulation of asbestos use. In 1989, the EPA banned the use of asbestos in most building materials

asbestos chrysotile fibers that cause lung disease, COPD, lung cancer, mesothelioma

Early Use of Asbestos

Asbestos was not widely utilized until the 1890s; then, its use sky-rocketed. It was used to outfit pipes, supplement roofing materials, insulate houses and commercial buildings, and as an insulator in the steel and industrial sectors. In 1918, the first documented study of asbestos exposure was published in the American Journal of Roentgenology; the study detailed effects visible on X-Rays of 15 patients that had sustained exposure to asbestos.

By the 1930s, cases of asbestosis had been documented and researched. By the middle of the decade, reports from the U.S. and U.K. detailed the relationship between asbestosis and lung cancer development.

Epidemiological studies and patient reports continued in the following decades, as the instance of lung cancers and asbestos exposure continued to increase. 1960 was a turning point in establishing the link between asbestos exposure and disease: “a large series of case reports was published involving the rare pleural tumor (mesothelioma) among 33 individuals (22 males, 11 females). All but one of the reported cases had a common exposure to crocidolite asbestos in a mining region of the NW Cape of South Africa,” (Lemen & Landrigan).

After documenting 120 mesothelioma cases, scientist Chris Wagner submitted his research to be considered by the 14th International Congress on Occupational Health in 1963, three years after the South Africa epidemiological report. Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 After the passing of the OSH Act of 1970, asbestos regulation was catalyzed. There were a multitude of regulations, partial bans, and restrictions placed on the size of asbestos fibers, utilization in certain buildings, and exposure times.

In the following years, these bans were updated to become more stringent. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of asbestos in a multitude of different construction materials, including tiling, roof shingles, clothing, gaskets, pipes, cement pipes, and car parts (although this list is not exhaustive). This ban remains the most impactful on regulation of asbestos use in industrial and construction materials.


Today’s Standing on an Asbestos Ban

Importantly, the EPA did not ban all asbestos use in 1989; there were some notable exceptions to their list of products. Today, asbestos is present in approximately 30 million American households, although not explicitly, like in building materials or insulation. Rather, asbestos has been found in children’s toys, on makeup products, and occasionally in tap water. Excitingly, the EPA has taken steps to further regulate extant asbestos products in the United States in 2024.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please call The Halpern Law Firm at (800)-505-6000. We are here to help you navigate the legal process of filing a claim to receive compensation for your cancer diagnosis. We help mesothelioma victims and their families in Pennsylvania.


  • Lemen, R. A., & Landrigan, P. J. (2017). Toward an Asbestos Ban in the United States. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(11), Article 11.

Written By Carina Filemyr

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