The History of Banning Asbestos in the USA

You may be surprised to hear this but the United States of America still does not have a full asbestos ban! Our country is one of the only world powers without one in place.
You may be confused by this statement. Many people think that asbestos was banned in the US in the 1970s. And that makes sense. Attempts have been made, but either they are not nearly sufficient or they died in court. One that I will mention later did get passed but then soon was gotten rid of because of the asbestos industry fighting against it. The reason people get confused is because in the 1960s Dr. Irving J Selikoff showed and proved that asbestos caused diseases including mesothelioma and lung cancer. He provided the evidence to counteract asbestos being a huge influence on US politics. During the 1970s and 1980s many legislations were made making asbestos more regulated. In 1970, the Clean Air Act of 1970 was passed. This put asbestos in the category of harmful air pollutants and it gave the EPA power to regulate asbestos regarding it and its disposal. Along with this spray applied asbestos and products made with it was banned. Six years later in 1976 the EPA was provided the power to make regulations about chemicals such as lead based paint and asbestos through the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Then, 10 years later in 1986, the EPA established standards for inspecting and removing asbestos in schools through the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986 (AHERA). During these two decades while a lot of moves were being made to regulate the use of asbestos an attempt on a complete ban was made. It was called the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule (ABPR) and was issued by the EPA in 1989. The ABPR imposed a full ban on the manufacturing, importing, processing and sale of asbestos. The ban did not last long because the asbestos industry fought against it in the landmark case of Corrosion Proof Fittings v. Environmental Protection Agency. Eventually, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the bans. They said that the EPA had failed to prove that the ABPR was the least burdensome way to regulate asbestos. Perhaps that was the case for the vast majority but if the government were to completely ban asbestos over a period of years instead of all at once, there is more time for people to be exposed to asbestos and therefore more people die from asbestos-related diseases. As I’m sure many people agree, it really would have been best if the ABPR ban had stayed in place. Even though the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ban the EPA didn’t remove it. They changed it instead. The new ABPR made it such that whatever asbestos including products weren’t in production on July 12, 1989, were banned. But everything that was being made as of July 12, 1989, were allowed to be continued in production and sale. This changed ban covered six categories of products containing asbestos. Spray applied asbestos already had been banned in the Clean Air Act of 1970. But fireproof clothing and brake pads among many other things were still allowed to be produced and sold. Another move made to ban asbestos was the Murray Bill, more formally called the Ban Asbestos in America Act. It was introduced by Patty Murray in 2002. It aimed to totally ban asbestos by 2007. It passed the US Senate but died in the House of Representatives. It would have banned the production, importing, processing, and distribution of asbestos-containing products. It was going to ban all types of asbestos as well as three other fibers with a close structure to asbestos. The Murray Bill also was going to have a network of research and treatment centers established. They were going to keep better record of asbestos-related diseases and provide funding for public awareness on asbestos, asbestos-related diseases, and the dangers of asbestos. The National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH) was going to look into the current knowledge of asbestos-related diseases, measurement methods, and where more research was needed. This bill was never passed but some compromises made to try to make it pass was the cutting out of the line which was to specify which products were banned by law that the Environmental Protection Agency says should have read like this ‘any product to which asbestos is otherwise present in any concentration’. The early supporters of the bill were not happy with this change. They claimed that it made it such that asbestos was not actually banned since anything with asbestos that wasn’t deliberately added could be sold. So they no longer supported the bill as strongly. (Although of course a lot is a much better than nothing, they expected all asbestos to be gone and suddenly that was no longer the case.) The next move to restrict asbestos was the Bruce Vento Ban Asbestos and Prevent Mesothelioma Act. It was first presented to Congress on September 15th, 2008. It planned to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act such that more products were banned through that act. It would, though, allow chlorine and lye to still be used and produced. Another thing that the Bruce Vento Ban was going to do was to increase public awareness of asbestos dangers. Interestingly enough it was also going to change the actual definition of asbestos such that it would include richterite and winchite as well as other asbestiform amphibole minerals. Richterite and winchite both are found among tremolite asbestos in Montana. Tremolite asbestos is not sold commercially, but it can be found in products because it is near other types of asbestos. This act died in Congress and has never been presented for voting again. Many health advocates support a full ban on asbestos but no new legislations have come forth since this act. When will asbestos be banned in the United States? It is not very easy to tell. People in the asbestos industry and politicians after their own interest will fight against any bill put out there. But there is some good news! The EPA added asbestos to the top 10 most dangerous chemicals. And that puts it under priority action. In 2018 the EPA announced a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) that you can read more about here. All over the world asbestos is being banned. The World Health Organization (WHO) is trying to make a worldwide ban to end asbestos, banning it in 2020. 190 countries are part of WHO so even if it isn’t quite a worldwide ban it would end asbestos. The first country to ban asbestos was Iceland in 1983. Many countries have followed suit, including Australia, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and Canada. Now how does this relate to you? Firstly, America doesn’t have a full ban, leaving it as one of the only world powers without one in place. Secondly, that’s scary. And some people just don’t want it to happen. Can you act on it? Perhaps. But right now, just get that dangerous stuff out of where you spend time. If you have it in your building or house call us now at (630) 884-5181 to have the asbestos removed.

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