Asbestos is such a well-known carcinogen that it has now been banned in at least 55 countries around the world. The United States, however, isn’t one of them.
Most people incorrectly believe that asbestos products are no longer on the market. While they’re not unrestricted, products containing asbestos are widely used in certain industries. Now, there are serious concerns that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will ease restrictions on asbestos manufacturing once again.
Asbestos came under scrutiny back in 1976 after the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed. Asbestos at that time had been a popular product for insulation and other building materials. It was turned into everything from floor tiles to shingles and used everywhere from factories to cars. Its versatility comes from the fact that it is a naturally-occurring substance that doesn’t burn, dissolve or react to most chemicals.
Unfortunately, it also has the potential to be deadly. As products made with asbestos decay, the tiny asbestos fibers get into the air. When those fibers get breathed into people’s lungs, they can eventually cause mesothelioma and other diseases. A ban was placed on the substance back in 1989, but it was overturned.
Since 2016, the EPA has been charged with reviewing the use of asbestos once again. Its current plan — which calls for examining and tracking imports when a manufacturer says that it wants the asbestos for a new use — seems to fall short of the original goals.
Critics say the plan does nothing to address the exposure risks from older materials on the market, nor does it do anything to track new instances of asbestos-related disease. They believe that the EPA’s current stance will make asbestos more acceptable for use again — and easier to get into the market.
Critics are calling for the EPA to take a “bright line” approach and ban asbestos outright. They say that the agency’s rules are undermining efforts to communicate the danger of asbestos to consumers and protect workers.
One thing is for certain: As long as asbestos is still out there, people will keep getting mesothelioma and related diseases. If you’ve been exposed to asbestos in the past, make your medical provider aware, and be on the alert for any symptoms of lung disease.