Why Hasn’t the United States Banned Asbestos?

Americans hear the word “asbestos” and tend to think, “Oh, we don’t use that stuff anymore. Isn’t it illegal? I thought we got rid of it years ago!”

Well, no. Though over fifty countries around the world have officially banned asbestos, the United States is not one of them. Despite evidence that no amount of exposure to asbestos is safe, industry leaders and advocates keep thwarting a ban that would help protect American citizens from this deadly known carcinogen.

Asbestos still kills up to 15,000 Americans every year.

Attempts at a Ban

It’s not like groups haven’t tried to do something about it. The Environmental Protection Agency attempted to ban asbestos in the 1990s, but the industry fought them in court and won based on arguments that a total ban was too costly and that alternative materials were no more safe or effective.

The federal court ruled that a complete and total ban was not the least burdensome way to protect the public’s health. Unfortunately, this decision was not appealed and has created terrible precedent for a future ban of asbestos (or any other toxic material for that matter).

What about legislation? Members of Congress have tried more than once to introduce a new law that would act as a ban on asbestos, but somehow the United States still lags behind most of the developed world in achieving this goal.

The first time that senators introduced a bill of this sort in 2002, asbestos industry lobbyists and their Congressional cohorts blocked it. In 2007, a bill called the “Ban Asbestos in America Act” was gutted almost entirely before failing to even make it to the President’s desk for consideration.

The Current Status of Asbestos in the U.S.

Of course, there are some federal regulations on asbestos, but they only ban a limited number of asbestos-containing products. The list of products still legal actually remains much longer. And the import of asbestos is also still legal too. Purportedly hundreds of thousands of pounds of it enter the US every year according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in Washington.

How Other Countries Handle Asbestos

Other notable countries who have yet to ban asbestos include Russia, India, China, and Brazil. Canada, formerly one of the biggest sources of asbestos to reach the US, recently announced a complete ban that it hopes to have fully implemented by 2018.

Iceland was the first country to ban all types of asbestos in 1983. The entirety of the European Union adopted procedures to ban its use in 1999. And even several developing countries in Africa have been sensible enough to ban this hazardous material.

It seems that a still-thriving trade in asbestos continues to take priority over public health for the United States. Confirming this supposition, Alex Formuzis of the EWG notes, “The fact that more than 50 nations have banned asbestos and the United States has not shows just how powerful the asbestos industry has been over the years.”

Why a U.S. Ban is Important

The failure of the US to ban asbestos and its continued import business not only puts the safety of the American public at risk, but many believe it sends a message to other nations around the world that it’s okay to continue to use and trade in asbestos.

The inaction of the United States is shocking to both its citizens and outsiders.

“It is rather unbelievable, that the country which has imported the most asbestos in the world, a country which possesses all the scientific knowledge about the hazards and human tragedy caused by asbestos, has not put an end to its use.”

Marc Hindry of the French National Association of Asbestos Victims based in Paris remarks,

Rachel Sasser

Author

Rachel Sasser is a lawyer, blogger, and freelance writer with an interest in the international politics of asbestos. She believes that the United States has a lot to learn about public health priorities from the way that other countries have handled their own asbestos issues and mesothelioma victims. She has a law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and practiced law in North Carolina.