These days, it’s common knowledge that exposure to asbestos can be extremely dangerous. Still, even though many people are aware that asbestos is dangerous, there are still many who do not take the proper precautions to protect themselves from exposure. In this blog, we will discuss when and why you should worry about asbestos, how common exposure is, and what can be done to prevent it.
Table of Contents
- What is asbestos?
- Has asbestos been banned?
- Asbestos in other countries
- Laws and litigation
- Mesothelioma & mesothelioma symptoms
- EPA risk evaluation
- Contact Us
What is Asbestos?
As a starting point, it should be noted that asbestos, in its natural state, is simply a mineral that is obtained by mining. Long ago, it became popular in the i ndustry for a number of reasons. First, there is an abundance of the mineral and it is relatively cheap. Second, it has properties that make it extremely useful for a variety of purposes. For example, it can be processed to create strong, flexible fibers. Asbestos is also resistant to chemicals and heat. Thus, it was perfect for use in steam pipes, furnaces, insulation, fire fighting equipment, and many products used in ships, home construction, commercial construction, and many other industries.
Unfortunately, it turned out that asbestos is a carcinogen. It is especially dangerous when its fibers become airborne and are inhaled. This can happen in a lot of ways. Asbestos that is friable can crumble, break into small fragments, or be crushed into a powder. The small fibers can then be inhaled, allowing them to lodge in the lungs and cause disease. Sometimes the fibers become airborne from actions like sawing and sanding, while some asbestos products can simply be crushed into a powder with the hands.
Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases can take years, and even decades, to appear. Thus, people who have been exposed to asbestos in the past may not develop symptoms for many years. At this point, it is estimated that more than 3000 people are dying every year as a result of asbestos-related illness. Due to the length of time it can take for the illness to develop, it is likely that problems will endure long into the future.
Has Asbestos Been Banned in the United States?
Through the years, workers from a number of industries, including construction, shipbuilding, mining, and automotive repair – just to name a few – have suffered from disease and illness, such as mesothelioma, associated with exposure to asbestos. Unfortunately, we also know that the dangers of asbestos were sometimes known, yet hidden from workers. Fortunately, the law now provides a remedy to hold wrongdoers responsible for victims.
Now that knowledge is widespread of the dangerous nature of asbestos, many people believe that it has been banned. Such a belief is partly correct and partly incorrect. Luckily, the usage of asbestos is now regulated much more closely than it once was. However, asbestos is still used widely in a number of industries, and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration estimates that the number of people exposed to asbestos on a daily basis still exceeds one million.
Where in the U.S. is Asbestos Found Today?
In the United States, a person’s age likely colors one’s knowledge and opinion of asbestos. Those of us who are a little bit older have a long history of the issues surrounding the mineral. There have been numerous lawsuits, bankruptcies of major American corporations, and resulting government regulation. And unfortunately, we have seen the death and devastating illness that can result from asbestos exposure.
For younger Americans, asbestos is probably a rare topic of conversation. That is understandable because it is far less common in the news than it once was. That can lead many people to believe that the issues of asbestos, mesothelioma, and other related illnesses have been fully addressed. That simply is not true. In this article, we will discuss where asbestos still can be found in the United States and the effects it can have on one’s health.
Where is asbestos used primarily?
Due to the dangers involved, you might think that asbestos has been banned. That is true in some countries, but not in the United States. While the mining of asbestos has ceased in the United States, it continues to be imported. According to a story aired on PBS, more than 6,000 tons of asbestos have been imported into the United States since 2011.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), imported asbestos continues to be used in the following products:
- Roofing materials
- Vinyl tile
- Corrugated sheeting
- Automobile clutches
- Brake pads
- Cement pipe (imported)
Moreover, according to the PBS story mentioned above, asbestos is present in 30 million houses and can also be found in a number of consumer products, including makeup and toys. Asbestos-containing products have also been used in many commercial buildings. Some try to use HEPA filters to remove traces of asbestos from their homes.
What Other Countries Have Not Banned Asbestos?
Historians note that Ancient Greeks used asbestos in clothing, and ancient Romans used it in both fabrics and building materials. Similarly, ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Scandinavians used asbestos. Even then, people appreciated that asbestos could provide strength, heat-resistance, and insulation. Interestingly, though, ancient Roman writings also make mention of sickness arising from exposure to asbestos.
Since that time, the U.S. government has taken some action to limit asbestos exposure in America. But is that enough? Some countries have totally banned the use of asbestos, and some have not. We’ll provide some notable examples in this article.
Worldwide Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos exposure is not just an American problem. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 125 million people around the world are still exposed to asbestos at work, and approximately 107,000 people die every year. As a result, some countries have banned asbestos.
Here are some top examples of countries that have banned the mineral:
- South Korea
- Saudi Arabia
- United Kingdom
This is only a partial list intended to demonstrate that countries from many parts of the world have taken strict actions to ban asbestos. Asbestos Nation (affiliated with the Environmental Working Group, or EWG) created a chart listing all of the nations that had banned asbestos at the time the chart was created.
Keep in mind that some countries listed as having banned asbestos may have permitted narrow exceptions within their laws. Additionally, because laws are constantly changing, the chart may not reflect countries that have recently been added to the list. Additionally, there are sometimes allegations that a country that has banned asbestos continues to mine it.
Which Countries Have Not Banned Asbestos
Perhaps more interesting is the list of countries that have not banned asbestos. Notable examples include:
- United States
Canada, previously on this list, took steps to ban asbestos at the end of 2018. According to EWG, a whopping 8 million pounds of asbestos have entered the United States over the last decade.
Will Asbestos Ever Be Completely Banned In The US?
This is largely a political question. After all, the harmful effects of asbestos are now well-known, and Congress could ban it, if it chose to do so. But given the amount of time that has passed since the last attempted ban, it seems unlikely to happen now. Several factors play a role.
Certainly, there are powerful industries that prefer to continue using asbestos, and will continue to fight any attempts to further ban it. Additionally, some argue that there are insufficient alternatives and that the economic impact of a ban would be too high.
Another argument is that asbestos is a natural substance, not something man-made like a chemical. Therefore, some people contend that we can control the dangers of asbestos, now that we know about them. Regardless of one’s position on any of these arguments, it cannot be refuted that people are still getting sick from exposure to asbestos.
Many are surprised to learn that asbestos has not been completely banned and that it is still used in numerous products to this day.
Would Banning Asbestos Resolve Asbestos-Related Illnesses?
The first problem is that even if the United States were to totally ban asbestos, countries like India and China still use hundreds of thousands of tons per year of the substance. We also know that these countries produce goods that are shipped all around the world. Thus, there would always be a concern that some products containing asbestos would reach us, even if their import were banned.
But the greater concern is the length of time that it takes for asbestos-related illness to develop. Mesothelioma can take years and even decades to develop after exposure to asbestos. Thus, even with a ban, people who were previously exposed could still become sick.
Litigation and Bankruptcies
Asbestos-related litigation exploded in the 1980s and thereafter. In August 1982, Johns Manville filed a historic bankruptcy case. By filing a bankruptcy action, a company can obtain protection from creditors. The company had been named as a defendant in more than 16,000 lawsuits. Johns Manville was a billion-dollar, Fortune 500 company, and at the time was the largest American company to ever file bankruptcy. Many other companies would soon follow suit.
As more lawsuits were pursued by victims of asbestos exposure, more information came to light, proving that information concerning the dangers of asbestos exposure had been concealed from workers. Because it can take years for asbestos-related illnesses to develop, it is widely believed that litigation will continue for many years. Fortunately, in addition to the protections provided by the legal system, many laws have been passed to protect Americans from the dangers of asbestos. Below are some examples.
Relevant Laws and Examples of Banned Uses of Asbestos
Many laws are designed to help address the dangers of asbestos. Below are a few of those laws, along with examples of bans related to asbestos.
Toxic Substances Control Act
Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 1976, which has since been amended on many occasions. The TSCA bans “new uses” of asbestos. This essentially prohibits the use of asbestos in products that did not historically contain it. Additionally, the TSCA also prohibits the importing, manufacturing, processing, and distributing of a number of products containing asbestos, such as flooring felt and a variety of paper products.
Consumer Product Safety Act
The Consumer Product Safety Commission plays a role in protecting the public from unreasonable dangers in consumer products, which can involve banning or recalling products containing asbestos. For example, asbestos is banned in certain fireplace products. Many products have been recalled over the years. For example, in 1980, hairdryers and heat guns containing asbestos were recalled. The Commission continues to investigate products that might be dangerous.
Clean Air Act
The Clean Air Act was established in 1970 and has been amended many times. The Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for administering the Act and has regulated and banned asbestos in a number of ways. For example, certain types of pipe insulation containing asbestos have been banned. Similarly, types of spray-on construction materials have been banned.
While not a law, OSHA has had a hand in reducing asbestos exposure. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has highly regulated the way workers may contact and work with asbestos by creating numerous requirements designed to protect the safety of workers.
Though asbestos can lead to an array of different health complications within the human body, especially for the resperatory system, by and large the most common is mesothelioma. As you’ve probably heard from daytime TV commercials and medical reports alike, mesothelioma is a devastating illness. Many times, when someone has been exposed to asbestos at their place at work, they will seek financial compensation for their medical expenses.
What Are Some Symptoms of Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma produces a number of common symptoms. These symptoms differ, depending on the part of the body affected by the disease. For example, pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lining around the lungs, is most common, and may produce some of the following symptoms:
- Persistent coughing
- Painful coughing
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
If you have any concerns regarding your health, talk to a doctor. A doctor can listen to your lungs, use x-rays, and other diagnostic tools to assess your condition. Also keep in mind that other forms of mesothelioma can affect other parts of the body.
Who is most likely to contract mesothelioma?
There are some professions that are more likely to be exposed to asbestos, and thus contract mesothelioma, than others.
Through the decades, people of the U.S. armed forces have come head to head with hundreds of hazards to life and limb – and that includes asbestos exposure. Especially those who served between 1930 and 1978, U.S. veterans have a high likelihood of being exposed to asbestos.
Dock workers were previously at a high risk due to the amount of asbestos used in certain ship components.Because it is not banned in the U.S. or countries popular for importing goods, like China, there’s a chance that dock workers could still come into contact with this material despite recent regulations.
While many know of the bravery shown by America’s firefighters, the flames themselves are not the occupation’s biggest cause of death. In reality, occupational cancer is the highest cause of death for firefighters. This includes mesothelioma.
Construction workers are usually at risk as well due to a high exposure rate – despite OSHA’s regulations, there are still buildings in the U.S. that were built before regulations were put in place. Sawing, drilling, sanding, and cutting can shake up asbestos remnants in older buildings.
Current Treatments for Mesothelioma
There are currently a variety of ways in which doctors may treat mesothelioma, depending on a variety of circumstances. We will address some below, focusing on pleural mesothelioma. First, if mesothelioma is diagnosed, doctors use a variety of tests, such as MRIs, CT scans, and PET scans to determine the stage of the cancer. The doctor will then determine the best treatment for the circumstances. Below are treatment options, which might be pursued independently, or in combination.
A doctor may operate to remove the cancer. If mesothelioma is diagnosed early enough, a doctor may be able to remove all of the cancer. In other instances, the doctor may only be able to remove a portion of the cancer. Surgery might be performed for other reasons, such as decreasing fluid in the lungs.
Most people are familiar with chemotherapy due to its use in treating a variety of cancers. Chemotherapy drugs are used to kill cancer cells. The hope is usually to shrink cancer, or to slow its growth.
A variety of types of radiation can be used, and are directed to a specific part or parts of the body in an effort to shrink or kill cancer cells. The radiation damages the DNA of the cell.
Targeted therapy uses medicines which attempt to interfere with the functioning of cancer cells. The drugs often interfere with the proteins in the cell.
Future Treatment Alternatives
Studies and clinical trials are ongoing for the treatment of mesothelioma and other cancers. Many involve the targeted therapy concepts discussed above. Other treatment concepts being investigated are boosting a patient’s immune system and altering a patient’s genes. While everyone certainly hopes for a bright future, full of treatment options, only time will tell how effective they will be. For now, as long as employees and others suffer significant exposure to asbestos, the possibility of contracting mesothelioma continues.
Will Mesothelioma Ever Be Eradicated?
People have suffered, and even died, from the horrible effects of mesothelioma. Fortunately, different segments of society have taken effective steps to address the problem. The government has passed laws implementing safety requirements for those who work with asbestos. Science and medicine are always seeking improvements in early diagnosis and effective treatment. Strong-willed patients and their lawyers have sued to hold wrongdoers accountable.
Finally, some uses of asbestos have been banned. But will mesothelioma ever be eradicated? Because asbestos has effective uses in many industries, there are many proponents of asbestos who are strongly opposed to an absolute ban of the mineral.
What Is the EPA’s Risk Evaluation of Asbestos?
Asbestos has led a long and complicated existence in the United States. Because it is cheap and has fire resistant and other useful properties, through the decades it could be found in everything from navy ships and firefighter equipment to brake pads and building products.
Over time, the dangers of asbestos became apparent. Victims injured by asbestos exposure won industry-changing lawsuits. The government finally took steps to restrict some uses of the mineral. But it has been a slow process and asbestos still has not been totally banned in the United States.
As time has marched forward, the issue has continued to create debate. In December 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its Final Risk Evaluation for chrysotile asbestos. In this section of the article, we will examine the agency’s conclusions and the effect on those who have been exposed to asbestos in the past.
While asbestos is often referred to as a single mineral, there are actually six different types of asbestos, including:
According to the EPA, chrysotile asbestos is the only type of asbestos “known to be imported, processed, or distributed for use in the United States, including in manufacturing, processing, distribution in commerce, occupational and consumer uses, and disposal.” Politico reports that 100 tons of chrysotile asbestos were imported (all from Brazil) into the United States in 2021. In previous years, imports were also received from Russia.
Purpose of the EPA Study
In this study, the EPA performed its risk assessment of chrysotile asbestos in accordance with amendments to a law called the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The EPA sought to determine whether this form of asbestos presents an unreasonable risk of injury to human health or the environment.
Results of Risk Assessment Concerning Risk of Injury to Health
Part 1 of the EPA’s risk assessment determined that there exist unreasonable risks to workers, consumers, occupational non-users, and bystanders from 16 of the 32 conditions of use of chrysotile asbestos that were examined. The results come as no surprise to asbestos opponents and confirm what many people have known for years – that long-term exposure to asbestos can cause harmful health effects, including mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Where Do We Go From Here?
In early 2022, the EPA issued a proposed rule which would ban almost all currently existing uses of asbestos. Given that a number of prior efforts at banning the substance failed, this is an exciting step for those who believe there should be no further use of asbestos in this country.
However, the proposed ban would apply only to chrysotile asbestos. Other forms of asbestos are still being studied by the EPA. There is also a minor proposed exception for a specialized use in brake blocks for a NASA cargo plane named the “Super Guppy.”
Uses of asbestos that have been previously permitted would be phased out over time. For example, chloralkali plants would be granted a two-year transition period. Similarly, sheet gaskets would have two years. Some products would have only 180 days before the ban would take effect.
The Future for Those Exposed to Asbestos
Only time will tell if the EPA’s proposed rule ultimately becomes law. Any restriction on the use of asbestos could help protect workers and others who would have been exposed to the dangerous mineral if not for the ban. However, dangers will still exist.
First, many buildings and products already contain asbestos and some people will have jobs that continue to bring them in contact with it. Additionally, there are many unfortunate people who were exposed to asbestos in the past. It can take mesothelioma decades to develop. Thus, people will continue to get sick due to their past exposure, even if asbestos is banned in the future.kely at this time.
Know Your Rights
In most cases, someone who has been exposed to asbestos may have a personal injury case on their hands. There has been a long history of mesothelioma and asbestos litigation through the decades, and they’re likely to continue. The process can be complex, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the legal aspects of a personal injury mesothelioma case in the state of Oregon.
If you think you’ve been exposed to asbestos, or have questions about mesothelioma or other asbestos-related health issues, please call us for a free consultation. Our experienced attorneys believe that people should be held accountable, and can help you understand all of your rights.