Public awareness about the dangers of asbestos containing products is increasing. Storms on the East Coast drew attention to the presence of the material in the wreckage, while movies and TV shows, ranging from 1994’s “With Honors” to Fox TV’s “Bones,” have portrayed the devastating effects that asbestos can have on people who inhale the deadly mineral fibers.
Even the federal government has been taking notice lately – it declared the first week of April National Asbestos Awareness Week.
So with all the attention surrounding this hazard, many of Kazan Law’s clients are left with certain questions: Why is asbestos still allowed in manufacturing in the U.S., and what products contain it?
Two decades of incremental work
For more than 70 years, scientists have found evidence that asbestos has potentially deadly effects on the human body. However, it wasn’t until 1973 that the federal government started to crack down on asbestos use. That year, the Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of spray-on asbestos as fireproofing and insulation material. Throughout the rest of the decade, the EPA forbade the use of asbestos from more products, including boilers, hot water tanks, artificial fireplace embers and wall patching compounds.
The big push came, though, in 1989, when the EPA banned most asbestos containing products. However, the asbestos industry challenged the law, and the federal appeals court removed most of the teeth in these policies two years later.
Currently, the EPA bans asbestos from being used in corrugated paper, commercial paper, specialty paper, flooring felt and rollboard. Also, companies cannot introduce asbestos into the production processes of items that were never made with the material in the past.
More than 1,000 tons a year for asbestos containing products
Asbestos hasn’t been mined in the U.S. since 2002. However, the country still imports the mineral from nations like Brazil, which still mines it. During the last three years, the U.S. took in more than 1,000 tons of asbestos annually.
So where does it all go? The U.S. Geological Survey lists the chloroalkali industry as the leading user of asbestos, consuming 57 percent of mineral sources. This business uses asbestos for devices that convert brine into chlorine because the material is strong and resistant to acids and bases.
As for the rest of the asbestos that comes into the U.S., unfortunately, some industries are still allowed to manufacture certain asbestos containing products. These include, but are not limited to:
- Cement corrugated sheets
- Cement flat sheets
- Cement pipe
- Pipeline wrap
- Vinyl floor tiles
- Automatic transmission components
- Clutch facings
- Disk brake pads
- Drum brake linings
- Roof coatings
- Roofing felt
There is no excuse for this because there are many suitable substitutes for asbestos. These may include carbon fiber, cellulose fiber, steel fiber, glass fiber, talc and silica.
Needless to say, we here at Kazan law find all of this greatly disturbing. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, so the fact that it’s still used in manufacturing is appalling. But if you’re as perturbed as we are, you may be able to help: Channel your anger and frustration into positive action. One way to do this is to contact your federal legislators and ask them to support policies such as the outright banning of asbestos containing products and widespread federally supported health screening.