Is Asbestos Still Used in Today’s World?
Is it true that asbestos-containing items have been phased out? The answer is no, at least not entirely. With today’s knowledge of
asbestos’ hazardous consequences, one may assume that the chemical would be completely outlawed in the United States. While it is not
completely prohibited, OSHA and the EPA have strict regulations in place.
When Did Asbestos Get Its Start?
Let’s take a look back in time to see why the United States hasn’t completely phased out asbestos use. Asbestos first gained popularity in the latter half of the nineteenth century. In 1874, New Yorker Henry W. Johns filed the first patent for asbestos, “Improvement for Compounds for Roofing and Other Products,” and in the 1890s, a huge commercial asbestos mining enterprise began on Vermont’s
Asbestos was promoted as a contemporary marvel, and its use skyrocketed. Asbestos-containing goods were commonly used for fireproofing, soundproofing, and insulation in industries such as manufacturing, building, the automobile industry, and weaponry production due to their strength and longevity, as well as their resistance to heat and corrosion. Asbestos was widely used for a wide range of purposes, and it was highly prized as a resource due to its efficiency and low cost of acquisition.
At the same time as the asbestos industry was expanding, the dangers of asbestos were becoming more generally recognised. People can inhale the fibres into their lungs, where they become lodged, because they are small, long, thin filaments that can easily become airborne. In 1918, the first report revealing body alterations in 15 people who had been exposed to asbestos was published. Insurance
companies began to withhold coverage to asbestos employees not long after. Around the next few decades, people all over the world began to notice and research the effects of asbestos exposure on humans. In 1963-64, two epidemiological investigations in the United States validated this findings, establishing a substantial relationship between mesothelioma and asbestos. By 1970, it was clear that asbestos causes asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, and the necessity for immediate action to reduce the risk was becoming apparent. By that time, the United States was using over 700,000 tonnes of asbestos each year.
Regulation of Asbestos
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was a boon because it enabled a more centralised and coordinated approach to asbestos handling. In 1971, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued the first asbestos regulation, establishing a standard for worker exposure. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlawed the use of spraying materials containing more than
1% asbestos for fireproofing or insulating buildings, structures, pipes, or conduits in 1973. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlawed asbestos pipe and block insulation in 1975, and it was not allowed on boilers or hot water tanks if it could become airborne when dry. Asbestos in artificial fireplace embers and all joint wall patching materials were banned by the Consumer Product Safety
Commission (CPSC) in 1977. In 1978, the EPA’s ban on spray-applied asbestos products was broadened to cover spray-applied surfaces for non-asbestos-related applications.
In terms of how asbestos was utilised and regulated, the 1970s were a watershed moment. Many asbestos-related workers sought legal redress through the courts, and the United States Surgeon General issued the first government-issued warning to doctors about the dangers of asbestos. OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) formed a working group to examine the effectiveness of the 1971 asbestos exposure standard. They concluded that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure and that asbestos exposure in the workplace should be drastically reduced. In the 1970s, the Toxic Substances Control Act granted the EPA the authority to regulate asbestos use.
Two additional key developments in the regulation of asbestos exposure occurred in 1986. The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response
Act (AHERA) mandates that all public and non-profit schools have an Asbestos Management Plan, which establishes protocols and
procedures for locating, identifying, and removing asbestos that could be harmful. The Asbestos Information Act required any industry
producing asbestos-containing materials to submit a report to the EPA, which then made the information public.
When Did Asbestos Become Illegal?
The EPA finally issued a rule in 1989, using its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act, that banned most asbestos-containing products in a way that would have eliminated their use over time, and they also ruled in 1990 that discontinued asbestos products would require specific EPA approval before being used. Due to strong industry lobbying, the whole ban was overturned in court in 1991, leaving
just a few specified categories of asbestos products and any new applications of asbestos outlawed. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ban was not the “least burdensome choice” for limiting asbestos exposure.
Following that, two pieces of legislation aiming to ban asbestos, one in 2002 and the other in 2007, never made it to the president’s desk. Cement corrugated sheet, cement flat sheet, clothing pipeline wrap, roofing felts, vinyl floor tile, cement shingle, millboard, cement pipe, automatic transmission components, clutch facings, friction materials, disc brake pads, drum brake linings, brake blocks, gaskets, non-roofing coatings, and roof coatings are some examples of products that are still available in the United States.
All of the effort in the 1970s and 1980s resulted in a significant decline in asbestos use overall, and by the start of the twenty-first century, the rate of asbestos use had returned to the level seen at the turn of the twentieth century. By 2015, the United States was importing 343 tonnes of asbestos per year, the majority of which came from Brazil and a smaller amount from Russia.
In April of this year, thirty years after the failed ban on asbestos, the EPA issued a rule prohibiting asbestos goods that had been withdrawn from being reintroduced without approval.
Asbestos in Construction Materials
Asbestos was used in a large number of structures in the United States during its heyday, prior to the 1970s and 1980s prohibitions. It is still present in innumerable structures and homes around the country, necessitating proper maintenance and construction. It’s comforting to know that asbestos that has not been disturbed and is in good condition does not pose a severe concern. Only when it is damaged and the microscopic threads go airborne does it become an issue.
While it has been scientifically proven that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure and it has been prohibited in more than 50 countries, asbestos is not totally outlawed in the United States. However, as mandated by the Toxic Substance Control Act, the EPA continues to examine ongoing asbestos uses, and if an undue risk is discovered, action will be taken.
We provide a wide range of asbestos detection and identification services. Our accredited laboratory can check for asbestos in waste, insulation, air, and water samples, among other things. We can do a thorough assessment of the asbestos danger in your commercial building.
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