Many people may be surprised to know that asbestos is still legal in the United States. Despite its known dangers, it is still used in automobile brake pads, gaskets, clutches, roofing materials, vinyl tiles, home insulation and some potting soils.
The United States remains the only country in the western world that allows asbestos to be used in products sold here. Current regulations restrict asbestos content to no more than one percent of the product.
The fact that any asbestos is permitted is remarkable considering no contact with asbestos is considered safe. Asbestos fibers are known to cause asbestosis, mesothelioma and other pleural lung diseases. Unlike other cancers, which give victims of hope of recovery, asbestos-related diseases are often aggressive and always fatal.
An end to asbestos in U.S. products?
Now, a new bill in Senate hopes to eliminate the use of asbestos. The Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestsos Now Act of 2017 was introduced in early November. The proposed law would task the Environmental Protect Agency (EPA) with identifying currently known uses of asbestos and establishing requirements for eliminating use and any possible human or environmental exposure to asbestos. The law would also prohibit the manufacture, distribution and use of asbestos-containing products within a year.
A history of prior legislation
This is not the first time that efforts have been made to ban asbestos. In 1989, the EPA issued a phase out rule, which was attacked by the asbestos industry. Using fear generated by claims that the restriction on the use of asbestos would harm jobs and the economy, lobbyists representing the asbestos industry were able to persuade a federal court to overturn the ban because the EPA did not show that a less burdensome alternative could not be found.
When all the dust had settled, the only products that were explicitly prohibited from using asbestos were: flooring felt, commercial, corrugated and specialty papers, rollboard and new uses of asbestos.
Nearly thirty years later, there have only been two other efforts to ban asbestos. The Murray bill, which passed the U.S. Senate in 2007, died on the House floor after being diluted with compromises to appease the industry. A year later, the Bruce Vento Ban Asbestos & Prevent Mesothelioma Act was introduced in Congress. The bill would have expanded the number of products included under asbestos restrictions, including winchite and richterite, but the bill never gained any momentum.
As the toll of asbestos exposure continues to rise and health care costs continue to soar, there is renewed hope that economic cost of an asbestos ban will no longer outweigh the human costs caused by the use of asbestos.