The Ongoing Threat of Asbestos Exposure in the U.S.

doctor showing lung xray to elderly couple with possible asbestos exposure

Despite being banned in nearly 70 countries due to its link to various forms of cancer, asbestos is still imported and used in the United States... and it’s still making people sick. 

Data compiled by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation shows that between 1990 and 2019, over 1 million Americans became sick and died from asbestos-related diseases including ovarian, lung, and larynx cancer, as well as mesothelioma, an extremely aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure. 

Regulations limiting the use of asbestos were enacted beginning in the 1970s throughout the 1990s. However, you may be surprised to learn that they simply limited the use of asbestos rather than completely banning it. As a result, many Americans are still facing the risks associated with asbestos exposure today. 

Asbestos Laws in the United States

Americans who are aware of the clear link between exposure to asbestos and the development of cancer often mistakenly believe that asbestos is now fully banned in the U.S. However, this is not the case.

While the use of asbestos in the United States is limited by the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Clean Air Act, and regulations enacted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some asbestos-containing products are still available in the U.S. 

Here's a quick look at the regulatory history regarding these products: 

  • In 1989, the EPA attempted to ban the manufacture, importation, processing, and distribution of most asbestos-containing products. However, this was overturned in 1991 following immense pressure from industry lobbyists. While some products remained banned at the time, many others were allowed to return to the market. 
  • In 2002, asbestos mining ceased in the United States and manufacturers began importing the product. Today, imports continue at a rate of approximately 450 tons per year
  • In 2019, the EPA regained more control, issuing a rule prohibiting new products containing asbestos from entering the market without first undergoing a review. During the review, the EPA would evaluate the product and add any necessary restrictions or prohibitions.

What Products Are Made Using Asbestos?

Some of the most common asbestos products in the United States include aftermarket automotive brakes and linings and certain gaskets. However, there have also been findings of asbestos in contaminated talc and certain beauty products.

In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised consumers to stop using certain products after samples tested positive for asbestos. This included specific lots of Johnson’s Baby Powder, Beauty Plus Global cosmetics, and Claire’s cosmetic products, which are primarily marketed to children.

While most products are no longer made using asbestos, it’s also still important to remain conscious of the risk of exposure from older products that were made before regulations were in place. Workers in certain industries and homeowners attempting DIY projects in older homes may also be inadvertently exposed. 

Some common products that may contain asbestos may include:

  • Roofing, ceiling, and floor tiles
  • Cement
  • Attic insulation
  • Automotive brake pads, hood liners, clutches, valves, and gaskets
  • Textiles such as rope, blankets, potholders, and firefighter suits
  • Older appliances (coffee pots, dryers, stoves)
  • Wicking for gas ranges
  • Zonolite insulation

The Asbestos Exposure Risk Is Real

2020 report by the EPA found that all consumer uses of chrysotile asbestos presented an “unreasonable risk” to consumers and bystanders. It also found that the commercial production of chrysotile asbestos-containing products such as chlor-alkali diaphragms, brake blocks, sheet gaskets, automotive brakes and linings, other gaskets, and other vehicle friction products created an “unreasonable risk” to both workers who had direct contact and “occupational non-users” who worked nearby but were not in direct contact with chrysotile asbestos.

Despite the acknowledgment that asbestos is a carcinogen and the clear risk that comes with exposure, asbestos products are still found in U.S. homes, schools, places of employment, and on store shelves. In addition, while it's becoming clear that there is no acceptable level of asbestos exposure, U.S. products are not required by law to carry a warning label as long as they contain less than 1% asbestos and are not expected to release asbestos fibers into the environment as a result of any reasonable use. 

This is a significant concern that, until now, has not been fully addressed. However, the EPA is once again taking a hard stance against asbestos use in the United States. 

April 2022 Proposed Asbestos Ban

Following the 2020 evaluation that indicated an "unreasonable risk" associated with exposure to asbestos-containing products, the EPA publicly recognized the need for a full asbestos ban to "protect American workers and families." 

In April 2022, the organization proposed a risk management rule under section 6(a) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). If passed, it would prohibit the manufacture, importation, processing, and distribution of chrysotile asbestos for both commerce and commercial use. 

Medical Impacts of Asbestos Exposure

Following a diagnosis of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related cancers or diseases, it's common to have many questions about asbestos and whether exposure may have been responsible for causing your illness. Sadly, there is no cure for asbestos-related diseases. While it often takes years or even decades for symptoms to develop after being exposed to asbestos, once diagnosed, the illness is often rapidly fatal.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, a mesothelioma lawyer can help you evaluate your options and decide on your next steps. While no amount of money can bring your health back, receiving compensation from those responsible can help you cover the costs of your medical treatment and ensure your loved ones are financially secure.

At Cooney and Conway, our team is dedicated to helping individuals impacted by asbestos exposure get the justice they deserve. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation with a skilled and compassionate mesothelioma attorney.