Despite the well-documented health dangers associated with asbestos, this mineral has never been completely banned in the United States. There is indeed no level of exposure low enough to guarantee the prevention of a form of cancer known as mesothelioma. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, roofing materials account for 61% of all new asbestos-containing products, friction products account for 19%, gaskets account for 13% and 7% are classified as “other.”1 This simple mineral has been used in a wide variety of products and mechanical equipment since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Given the grave danger it poses to human health, why has our government not instituted an outright asbestos ban?

Some refer to this doomed effort as “The Failed Asbestos Ban.” In 1979, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided to regulate asbestos under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Through TSCA, the EPA attempted to institute an absolute asbestos ban. As the proposed ban became imminent, asbestos manufacturers and the Canadian government began to pressure the United States government, under the Reagan Administration, to halt the EPA’s efforts. The Canadian government took a great interest in this matter because “95 percent of the 85,000 tons of asbestos used in the United States at the time came from Canada, primarily Quebec.” 2 Due to overwhelming pressure from both Canadian and U.S. government officials, the EPA eventually agreed not to impose a ban. In 1984, the EPA transferred the asbestos issue to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

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Several years later, the EPA found that the CPSC had not taken any significant action since 1982 to limit asbestos in consumer products. Outraged by the CPSC’s failure to act and facing mounting public pressure, the EPA reversed its prior position and again decided to support a ban.

In 1989, after conducting a ten-year study, the EPA announced that it would phase out all products containing asbestos. This ban applied to the manufacture, distribution and import of asbestos-containing products such as roofing materials, pipes, tile, insulation and brake linings.  The ban drew a negative response from asbestos manufacturers and the Canadian government, who once again pressured the U.S. federal government to dissolve the ban.  In 1991, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans vacated the ban under TSCA and held that the EPA had failed to present “substantial evidence” to justify the ban.  As a result of this decision and despite numerous    attempts to reenact the ban, asbestos-containing products are still being sold in the United States today.

Sample List of Materials Suspected of Containing Asbestos 3

Cement Pipes Elevator Brake Shoes
Cement Wallboard HVAC Duct Insulation
Cement Siding Boiler Insulation
Asphalt Floor Tile Breaching Insulation
Vinyl Floor Tile Ductwork Flexible Fabric Connections
Vinyl Sheet Flooring Cooling Towers
Flooring Backing Pipe Insulation (corrugated air-cell, block, etc.)
Construction Mastics (floor tile, carpet, ceiling tile, etc.) Heating and Electrical Ducts
Acoustical Plaster Electrical Panel Partitions
Decorative Plaster Electrical Cloth
Textured Paints/Coatings Electric Wiring Insulation
Ceiling Tiles and Lay-in Panels Chalkboards
Spray-Applied Insulation Roofing Shingles
Blown-in Insulation Roofing Felt
Fireproofing Materials Base Flashing
Taping Compounds (thermal) Thermal Paper Products
Packing Materials (for wall/floor penetrations) Fire Doors
High Temperature Gaskets Caulking/Putties
Laboratory Hoods/Table Tops Adhesives
Laboratory Gloves Wallboard
Fire Blankets Joint Compounds
Fire Curtains Vinyl Wall Coverings
Elevator Equipment Panels Spackling Compounds
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