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The United States has not fully banned asbestos. Currently, more than 60 countries have banned the mineral. In the U.S., asbestos can still be found in building materials such as gaskets and roofing products. Continued asbestos use puts individuals at risk of asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma.


01. Asbestos Bans in the U.S.

History of Asbestos Bans in the U.S.

Asbestos is not banned in the United States. Asbestos mining was banned in 2002 with the closing of the last U.S. asbestos mine. However, it is still legal to import and use the mineral in small amounts. Without a complete ban, many products still legally contain up to 1% of the mineral.

The Influence of Asbestos Diseases on a Ban

Researchers connected asbestos to diseases as early as 1918. In the 1930s, regulations were put in place to limit the development of asbestosis in workers. Asbestosis was one of the earliest recognized and understood asbestos illnesses.

However, disagreements between political parties on asbestos handling presented a problem. Regulations passed were swiftly overturned, and all asbestos ban progress halted until the 1970s.

U.S. Asbestos Regulations Enacted in the 1930s

  • Reducing concentrations of asbestos dust
  • Conducting medical surveillance of workers
  • Selecting workers least likely to develop asbestos diseases (no pre-existing lung issues)

Still No Ban: Asbestos Regulations and Laws in the 1940s – 1970s

In 1938, a study declared low levels of asbestos in the air would not result in the development of asbestosis. The medical world now knows this is untrue, but from the 1940s to the 1970s this was the accepted belief.

Congress passed the following laws under this guidance:

  • The 1951 Walsh-Healey Act
  • The Longshoremen’s Act of 1960

The Walsh-Healey Act maintained the recommended low levels of asbestos from the 1938 study. It also required evaluations of the design and efficacy of the equipment used to limit airborne asbestos.

The Longshoremen’s Act of 1960 pertained to longshoremen and recommended the same low level of asbestos determined safe in 1938. This act also detailed the threshold when asbestos fiber length is considered dangerous. The Walsh-Healey Act was updated in 1961 to include this provision as well.

NIOSH Recommends an Asbestos Ban

In 1976, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) was the first United States federal organization to recommend a ban on asbestos in the workplace. No ban resulted from the NIOSH push, but its efforts led to a decline in asbestos use.

Some asbestos safety advocates feel asbestos companies’ political influence has thwarted attempts to make asbestos illegal in the United States. Asbestos companies and big businesses profit off of the asbestos industry. When laws and recommendations are released, those with special interests may dissuade lawmakers from using scientific proof to regulate/ban asbestos. The lack of results from NIOSH’s recommendation is just one example of politics impacting regulations.

States That Have Banned Asbestos

Although there is no national ban against asbestos in the United States, some individual states have enacted stricter regulations than those approved federally.

New Jersey was the first state to ban asbestos. The bill was spearheaded by Assemblywoman Lisa Swain and passed in October of 2018.

What Exactly Is Banned in the New Jersey Asbestos Bill?

Effective September 1, 2019, the state of New Jersey has banned the sale or distribution of asbestos-containing products.

Connecticut followed suit and passed a similar bill in the U.S. Senate in 2019. However, the bill failed in June 2019.

While there aren’t bans in other states, many states have enacted strict fines on asbestos use.

02. EPA and Asbestos Bans

What Is the EPA’s Role in Asbestos Regulations?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the federal government agency tasked with regulating asbestos in the United States. The Clean Air Act of 1970 granted the EPA this responsibility. This act classified asbestos as a hazardous air pollutant and banned spray-on asbestos. Since then, the EPA has passed various laws that regulate asbestos use.

“One of EPA’s priorities is to protect the public from adverse health effects of asbestos.”

EPA

What Is the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA)?

The EPA’s largest piece of asbestos legislation was the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. This legislation resulted in the following three items:

Partial Ban on Asbestos, 1989

This ban prohibits the manufacture, import, processing and distribution of some asbestos-containing products.

Items Included in the Ban: 

  • Corrugated paper
  • Rollboard
  • Commercial paper
  • Specialty paper
  • Flooring felt
  • New uses of asbestos
April 2019 Final Rule

This ruling states asbestos-containing products no longer on the market cannot reenter the market without EPA approval.

This ruling is not an avenue for the five items included in the 1989 ban to reenter the market.

Risk Evaluation of Asbestos Under TSCA

The EPA continues to review the ongoing uses of asbestos. If and when any risks are found, the EPA will address the public health issue.

This process is completed before the EPA can restrict or ban any use of asbestos.

What Is the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule (ABPR)?

On July 12, 1989, the EPA issued a ban on most asbestos-containing products. Initially, the EPA’s asbestos ban strictly regulated certain products. Two years later, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned the ban.

The New Orleans ruling was prompted by a lawsuit, Corrosion Proof Fittings v. EPA.

Long-Standing Impacts of Corrosion Proof Fittings v. EPA

  • According to scholars, the ruling to overturn the EPA ban created a heavy burden for any future EPA regulations on carcinogenic and/or toxic materials under the TSCA.

The 1989 partial ban on asbestos was the final result.

03. Attempted Bans: Early 2000s

Attempts at Asbestos Bans: Early 2000s

In the early and mid-2000s, lawmakers introduced two bills that would have enacted strict regulations and/or complete bans on asbestos:

  • The Ban Asbestos in America Act (the Murray Bill)
  • The Bruce Vento Ban Asbestos and Prevent Mesothelioma Act

Congress did not pass either piece of legislation.

Murray Bill

In 2002, Senator Patty Murray introduced the Ban Asbestos in America Act, commonly known as the Murray Bill, to the Senate. In 2007, the bill unanimously passed in the Senate but did not pass in the U.S. House of Representatives.

What Was Included in the Murray Bill?

The Murray Bill would have:

To pass the bill in the Senate, Senator Murray did give concessions. If passed, the bill would not have banned the sale of all asbestos-containing materials. Instead, it would have banned products with asbestos specifically added. This created a loophole for asbestos-contaminated minerals. Naturally occurring minerals located near asbestos deposits may be contaminated with the carcinogen, such as those mined in Libby, Montana.

Bruce Vento Ban Asbestos and Prevent Mesothelioma Act

The Bruce Vento Ban Asbestos and Prevent Mesothelioma Act was introduced on September 15, 2008. The goal of the bill was to strengthen the TSCA by banning more types of asbestos-containing products. The bill did not pass Congress.

What Was Included in the Bruce Vento Ban Asbestos and Prevent Mesothelioma Act?

This bill would have required the EPA to establish a plan and a program to:

  • Increase awareness of the dangers related to asbestos-containing products in the home and workplace
  • Provide information on and encourage participation in asbestos-related disease research
  • Encourage health care workers to provide information about asbestos to patients and their families

In addition to the EPA requirements in the bill, it would have also expanded the definition of asbestos. The bill would have added winchite, richterite and asbestiform amphibole minerals. Winchite and richterite are both found in the vermiculite mines in Libby, Montana.

04. Asbestos Laws Today

Asbestos Laws Today: Is the U.S. Closer to a Ban?

There has been a recent wave of legislation in an attempt to strengthen asbestos regulations. There have been two pieces of asbestos-related legislation passed since 2016. The first was under President Barack Obama.

Lautenberg Act

When Was This Passed? June 22, 2016

What President Enacted This? President Barack Obama

What Does This Do? This act strengthens the TSCA regulations, giving the EPA the ability to ban asbestos and other dangerous chemicals.

Significant New Use Rule (SNUR)

When Was This Passed? April 17, 2019

What President Enacted This? President Donald Trump

What Does This Do? These rules require the EPA to be notified before any asbestos-containing products can be reintroduced to the market.

Advocates for a complete asbestos ban have called upon the EPA for action.

Concerns include:

  • lack of response about a complete asbestos ban
  • lack of support for a complete asbestos ban
  • lack of regulations on asbestos currently in use

These concerns were largely aimed at former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and his successor Andrew Wheeler.

What Is the Lautenberg Act?

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act gives Congress the power to ban asbestos. In 2016, this act added asbestos to the list of top 10 chemicals for priority action. This bill was signed under President Obama. However, the EPA has not banned asbestos under this law during the Trump administration.

What Was Included in the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act?

  • Mandatory requirement for EPA to evaluate existing chemicals with clear and enforceable deadlines
  • Risk-based chemical assessments
  • Increased public transparency for chemical information
  • Consistent source of funding for EPA to carry out the responsibilities under the new law
    –Quoted directly from the EPA: Assessing and Managing Chemicals under TSCA

An example of a risk-based chemical assessment is the EPA’s risk assessment for asbestos. This assessment has undergone review and will be revised to address concerns and limitations identified by the EPA’s peer review committee.

Findings of such risk assessments could contribute to stricter regulations or movements toward a ban.

What Is the Significant New Use Rule (SNUR)?

The Significant New Use Rule is an addition to the TSCA creating a process and pathway for uses of asbestos to reenter the market. The rule states the EPA must be notified of plans to reintroduce asbestos-containing products not currently on the market. The rule may also be referred to as the April 2019 Final Rule.

The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) claims the SNUR “falls woefully short of taking meaningful action to protect public health.”

Proposed Uses of Asbestos That Would Fall Under the SNUR

  • Adhesives, sealants, roof and non-roof coatings
  • Arc chutes
  • Beater-add gaskets
  • Cement products
  • Extruded sealant tape and other tapes
  • Filler for acetylene cylinders
  • Friction materials
  • High-grade electrical paper
  • Millboard
  • Missile liner
  • Packings
  • Pipeline wrap
  • Reinforced plastics
  • Roofing felt
  • Separators in fuel cells and batteries
  • Vinyl-asbestos floor tile
  • Woven products
  • Other building products

Critics of the SNUR, including the ADAO, question if this new rule could allow for more asbestos products to enter the market.

05. Asbestos Bans Around the World

Asbestos Bans Around the World

More than 60 countries across the globe have banned asbestos. Some of the most notable bans include those in Canada and Brazil.

In the past, Canada and Brazil were the main exporters of asbestos to the United States. Asbestos exports into the U.S. from Canada halted when the country banned the mineral in 2018.

The Brazilian asbestos ban, enacted in 2017, has not stopped the transport and exportation of the mineral. From 2015 to 2018, Brazil was responsible for 96% of all asbestos imports into the United States.

According to the most recent data, all the asbestos imported into the country in 2019 came from Russia.

Notable Worldwide Asbestos Bans

  • Australia: Australian asbestos mining ended in 1983. In the mid-1980s, Australia banned blue and brown asbestos. On December 31, 2003, the country banned all forms of asbestos importing, manufacturing, use, reuse, sale, storage and transport.
  • European Union: In 2005, the European Union banned all six types of asbestos.
  • United Kingdom: The United Kingdom fully banned all six types of asbestos in 1999. In 2006, the U.K. combined all previous asbestos legislation into one ban.
  • Turkey: Turkey banned all asbestos in 2010. Many other Middle Eastern countries have not yet banned asbestos.
  • Canada: Canada banned asbestos mining in 2011. In 2018, the country passed a law prohibiting the import, sale, use of asbestos and asbestos-containing products. There are some exceptions.

A worldwide asbestos ban could prevent dangerous asbestos from crossing borders. This trading may result in asbestos passing through countries with an asbestos ban en route to its destination.

Countries With a National Asbestos Ban

  • Algeria
  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Bahrain
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Brunei
  • Bulgaria
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Djibouti
  • Egypt
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Gabon
  • Germany
  • Gibraltar
  • Greece
  • Honduras
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Iraq
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Macedonia
  • Malta
  • Mauritius
  • Monaco
  • Mozambique
  • Netherlands
  • New Caledonia
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Oman
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Qatar
  • Romania
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Serbia
  • Seychelles
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • Turkey
  • United Kingdom
  • Uruguay

As the number of countries banning asbestos grows, critics of the United States’ lack of a ban hope the U.S. may feel pressure to follow suit. As more countries ban the mineral, it also becomes harder for the United States to import large amounts of asbestos.

Without a complete asbestos ban, Americans and others across the globe continue to be at risk of asbestos exposure and developing mesothelioma.

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