Asbestos: More Prevalent Than You Think

Given the overwhelming evidence of asbestos’ harmfulness to human health and its connection to the deadly disease mesothelioma, many United States citizens are under the impression that by now, asbestos has been phased out of most domestically-produced materials. However, many people are not aware that the 1989 EPA ban on many asbestos products was successful appealed and radically altered in 1991 by the U.S. Fifth Court of Appeals.

According to the EPA on this webpage, “Newspaper and magazine articles, Internet information, and currently available (but outdated) documents from the EPA and other federal agencies may contain incorrect statements about an EPA asbestos ban.” As a result, many products produced or imported for use in the U.S. construction industry may still contain asbestos.

So what materials are banned in the U.S.? The Clean Air Act bans the use of most sprayed-on asbestos containing materials using more than 1% asbestos. It also bans preformed and wet-applied asbestos pipe insulation. The Toxic Substances Control Act also bans corrugated paper, commercial paper, rollboard, specialty paper, flooring felt, and any new uses of asbestos. There are many products, however, that were originally scheduled to be phased out by 2008, are no longer banned under TSCA. These include certain asbestos cement materials, asbestos clothing, asbestos transmission materials, roofing felt and roof coatings. The EPA throughly addresses these matters and more in the document entitled, “Asbestos Strategies: Lessons Learned About Managerment and Use of Asbestos,” published in 2003.

And how much asbestos is being used annually in the U.S.? Well, according to the EPA, in 2001, the U. S. imported roughly 13,100 metric tons of asbestos, mostly from Canada. According to one of the report’s graphs showing the uses of asbestos in 2001, the large majority (9,250 metric tons) of asbestos is used in roofing products. This is followed by 2300 tons used in gaskets. Friction products, coatings, compounds, and other products incorporate the remaining 1/20 of uses of asbestos in 2001.

When it comes to the EPA and mesothelioma, the EPA makes clear some troubling factors. First, they note that asbestos is perhaps the most well-researched toxic substance. Second, they admit that not only are the current restrictions likely not sufficient to adequately protect the health of workers and consumers exposed to asbestos, but also the current enforcement of the existing ban is also insufficient. In their clarification of the asbestos ban and phase-out, the EPA advises, “The EPA does NOT track the manufacture, processing, or distribution in commerce of asbestos-containing products. It would be prudent for a consumer or other buyer to inquire as to the presence of asbestos in particular products.” We will be looking further into this topic in future blogs.

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