Asbestos and asbestos-containing products have long been known to cause mesothelioma and other deadly cancers and diseases in people who are exposed to the threadlike fibers. Recognizing its dangers, in 1989 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the manufacture, importation, processing, and distribution of asbestos in the United States. This monumental step in protecting U.S. citizens from the devastating effects of asbestos exposure was short-lived. In 1991, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the ban citing insufficient evidence in support of the ban.
The Court did not deny that asbestos was a carcinogen but concluded that the EPA did not provide enough evidence to support its total ban on all uses of asbestos-containing materials. In its Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA),the EPA states that the full ban on asbestos was justified citing that there was no safe level of exposure; however they failed to investigate ways for the product to be used within an acceptable range of exposure. The EPA provided suggestions for alternative products, yet failed to research the health impact that these products would bestow upon the public. Many of the alternative products were found to be carcinogenic as well. In support of its holding, the Court also relied on the EPA’s failure to analyze the financial impact of the ban in relation to its benefit.
The U.S. Court of Appeals decision did not entirely knock down regulation of asbestos use in the United States. The EPA’s ban on the production of new products containing asbestos and new uses for asbestos-containing materials not in existence or employed as of 1989 was permitted to continue. Therefore, though the use, transportation, and importation of asbestos-containing products continue in the United States, only known pre-1990 asbestos products and uses are allowed and can be regulated by federal and state agencies.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to implement and enforce regulations on the safe handling and use of asbestos-containing products. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) establishes and regulates “on the job” safety and health standards and precautions, which require employers to inform and train employees on the safe handling of asbestos-containing products. The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) of 1986 requires schools to have annual inspections by licensed and accredited professionals to identify and manage asbestos-containing materials in their buildings. In New Jersey, the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulate the use, disposal, and transportation of asbestos-containing materials, and investigate allegations of improper asbestos handling.
As long asbestos products continue to be imported into the United States, individuals are still at risk of exposure. Regulation is only effective when we are aware of its existence and risks and educated on alleviating the risk and preventing exposure. Asbestos-laden insulation, flooring, pipe fittings, brakes and mechanical auto parts, heating and cooling elements, paints, roofing materials, and adhesives are just some of the products still commonly used today. Unfortunately, many workers in the construction, automotive, and building industries, as well as home improvement “do-it-yourselfers” and car enthusiasts, are not properly educated or informed about the risks associated with handling asbestos-containing materials.
The asbestos law firm of Brookman, Rosenberg, Brown & Sandler is conveniently located in the heart of Philadelphia and serves clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. If you or someone you love has been exposed to asbestos or has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos related disease, call our attorneys at 215-569-4000, or contact us online to learn more about how we can help you.