Guess What? Asbestos Is Still Legal in the U.S.

Caution tapeIt’s been decades since people started receiving diagnoses of mesothelioma -- a rare cancer caused only by asbestos exposure. You would think that the presence of a known carcinogen would be banned in any modern building’s construction, yet this life-threatening material is still allowed in the United States.

Now, the Environmental Protection Agency is taking a closer look at the dangerous substance to determine whether that status should be reconsidered.

What Is Asbestos?

While many of us have heard of asbestos and we are familiar with its horrific effects on the human body, some people aren’t sure exactly what it is.

Asbestos refers to six naturally occurring fibrous minerals that have the ability to resist heat, fire and electricity. When asbestos was discovered it was referred to as the “magic mineral” due to this unheard of resistance. It was used by the military, the construction industry, railroad companies, and more - but then the workers who handled it began to suffer from asbestos related illnesses, including mesothelioma, and questions arose about its safety. Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly cancer that can develop in linings of the lungs, abdomen, or heart.

The Risk to Workers

The danger of being exposed to asbestos came from inhaling it while on the job. Small fibers would detach from the substance and enter the workers’ lungs, becoming difficult to expel and thus settling in for the long haul. Eventually, some of these workers developed mesothelioma as a direct result of asbestos in their lungs.

Sometimes, even the family members of a worker would be at risk of developing this condition. When the worker came home after a long day of handling asbestos, he may be carrying fibers on his clothing, which could be inhaled by his spouse or children. This was the less-common scenario, but there are still secondhand mesothelioma diagnoses happening today.

Why Hasn’t Asbestos Been Banned?

Given its risk, it seems obvious that something this dangerous should be banned in the United States. However, although many of its uses were banned in the 1970s, it’s still common in some products today. Even though the EPA did issue a rule in 1989 that essentially banned all uses of asbestos, it was short-lived. The ban was overturned in 1991 after a successful overturning of the court ruling by asbestos companies and their supporters. Since then, asbestos has not been allowed in new products or in products that historically did not contain asbestos, but some of its uses are still allowed.

Fortunately, all this may be about to change.

The Promise of New Evaluation by the EPA

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which was signed into law on June 22, 2016, gave more power to the EPA to evaluate chemicals in the marketplace by conducting safety reviews. The agency can also impose regulations on them if they determine that the chemicals pose a health risk to people or the environment.

Now, the EPA will have more capacity to test and regulate chemicals that may be dangerous. Back in 1989, they didn’t have that kind of power -- which left people vulnerable to mesothelioma. Here’s hoping for more regulations on substances like asbestos, and a healthier future as a result.

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