The asbestos industry has undergone drastic changes over the last several decades in response to the many discoveries about the many harmful effects of asbestos exposure. Although there are many products that still use asbestos in some form even today, a great many others have also been banned from production in the United States. The problem is that long after these banned products have been pulled from the marketplace, the permanent damage caused by being exposed to them remains, and the asbestos industry today fights tooth and nail against paying claims for any past damage done by their industry.
“Many Americans mistakenly believe that asbestos was banned decades ago. Tragically, that is not the case. Although asbestos is no longer mined in the U.S. and its use has declined significantly, American industry still legally imports, uses and sells both raw asbestos and products made with it.” Asbestos nation
Early Industrial Cover-Ups of Asbestos Danger
Leaders in the asbestos fiber industry knew about the many health risks (including cancer and pulmonary disease) of their products decades ago. There is ample evidence proving this in the form of medical and professional reports, internal memos and trade organization reports within the industry. Most of the large industrial manufacturers either ignored or downplayed the obvious health hazards of asbestos for years, however, until the government and even some trade organizations forced their hands. Why? Because until they had no other choice, they protected profits above employee health.
Fortunately, the outcry of organizations such as the Industrial Hygiene Foundation and advocates from the medical community pushed those in the industry who used asbestos to come to terms with their problems. Increased safety procedures, warning labels and proper training for workers were some of the measures that organizations pushed into place in this industry.
Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go. Asbestos use in the United States is still not banned, and there are dozens of products, such as roofing shingles, cement pipes and vinyl flooring, that still contain asbestos.
How the Asbestos Industry Protects Its Interests
The bad news is that there is still a long way to go and corporations invested in today’s asbestos related industries are still trying to protect the investment dollars of companies by minimizing worker health and safety as well as minimizing pay-outs to those who have suffered permanent and life-threatening damage from asbestos exposure. Some of the ways industry insiders are trying to protect their profits at the expense of their employee’s health includes:
- Using political clout to support the passing of resolutions putting a cap on the amount of compensation that individuals can claim when they sue for damages caused by asbestos.
- Attempting to establish government trust funds to be used to pay out settlements against those in asbestos related industries, thereby making sure taxpayers are paying for the problems of the companies instead.
- Lobbying on Capital Hill for various tax credits and tax breaks based on settlements and payments made to victims of asbestos damage. By receiving tax breaks for losing litigation, the industry is attempting to be rewarded for its mistakes.
This industry is a powerful, wealthy block of corporations. They continue to try and minimize the potential danger of products containing asbestos by emphasizing to the public their safety precautions while down-playing the suffering of the millions who have been exposed to asbestos in the past. It seems likely that in the near future, there won’t be any great improvements until the asbestos industry is held accountable to a much higher standard.
You may recall the Environmental Protection Agency’s investigation of asbestos products in the 1970s and 1980s and believe that asbestos has been completely banned. Unfortunately, this isn’t at all the case. In fact, there are hundreds of products containing asbestos in use every day in the United States.
Attempts to Ban Products Containing Asbestos Not Successful
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the EPA both carefully studied asbestos products and their potential to cause harm for years. The conclusion of both agencies was that there was no good reason to keep using asbestos in manufacturing. In 1989 the EPA went so far as to propose a complete phase-out and eventual ban of nearly all products containing asbestos due to the high risk of diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer that resulted from exposure.
The EPA’s proposed ban should have been a resounding victory in the struggle against the use of asbestos products – but manufacturers and asbestos associations sued to stop the regulation. In the Fifth Circuit Court, the case of Corrosion Proof Fittings vs. the EPA stands as one of the greatest losses in environmental and health safety regulatory history. The EPA went on to ban the use of asbestos in products ranging from children’s crayons to hair dryers, but the bans fell far short of their original intent to completely eliminate the use of asbestos and products containing the fibrous minerals.
Today, the Consumer Products Safety Commission and the EPA attempt to regulate the use of asbestos in products through strict regulation of how, when and why the products are used. Strict regulation on the replacement and removal of products containing asbestos has also been enacted.
Asbestos Primarily Used in Construction
Today asbestos containing products are most often used in construction of buildings and homes. Various construction materials such as vinyl flooring, roofing materials, caulking, spackling compounds and HVAC duct installation are all asbestos containing products. Once they are put in place properly, the risks are minimal; however any time they are disturbed (such as during remodeling) they become a powerful source of asbestos contaminants that are released into the air in particles too small to see.
The asbestos removal industry has sprung up in answer to this continuing problem, since tens of millions of homes today contain insulation, asbestos siding, shingles and other products that have to be disposed of properly when remodeling is done. Unfortunately, you probably don’t realize that products such as insulation, flooring and roofing may be hazardous to your health when disturbed. For this reason it is absolutely essential that if you are considering doing work on your house be sure to do an asbestos test to see if the material in question contains asbestos products. Once the damage from breathing in asbestos is done, it can’t be reversed.