When Was Asbestos Banned? | When Did They Stop Using Asbestos?

People often have questions about when asbestos stopped being used. For most of the 20th century, asbestos was used in building materials and other applications. It was popular because of its heat resistance and durability. It wasn’t until later, after its prevalent use, that it was discovered asbestos exposure can lead to health issues, including mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Because of its risks and harmful effects, many countries have completely banned or heavily restricted the use of asbestos.  An initiative to ban asbestos started in the 1980s, and its use was heavily regulated, with industries deferring to safer alternatives. Although some types of asbestos were banned, a complete ban for all products occurred as recently as March 2024.

An Explanation of Asbestos and Its Use

Asbestos is a mined mineral containing thin, strong fibers that make it ideal for heat resistance because of its insulating properties. Industries where asbestos was widely used included construction, shipbuilding, manufacturing, and automotive.  

When materials with asbestos are damaged or disturbed, the tiny fibers are “friable” and may become airborne.  Once in the air, they are easily inhaled. 

The inhalation or potential ingestion of the fibers is what can lead to serious health concerns, including mesothelioma, which is a rare cancer affecting the lungs’ lining. Also linked to asbestos exposure are lung cancer and asbestosis, which is a chronic lung condition. 

The History of Asbestos Use in the United States

The late 19th century is when asbestos use became prevalent in the U.S. At the end of the 1800s, its heat-resistant properties led to its use in insulation, soundproofing, and fireproofing. It was used in buildings, industrial facilities and ships.

Use expanded quickly during the early to mid-20th century, especially during World War II and the subsequent construction boom. Asbestos was used for building materials like roofing, flooring, insulation, and cement. It was also used in textiles, car parts, and other industrial applications.

By the mid-20th century, there were emerging reports that linked asbestos exposure to serious health problems, especially among asbestos mine workers and workers in factories and on construction sites. 

The concerns continued to grow as there was more evidence showing that asbestos exposure could lead to lung cancer, mesothelioma and respiratory diseases.

The Regulatory History of Asbestos

As early as the start of the 1900s, some reports linked asbestos exposure to respiratory and lung diseases, but the risks weren’t widely understood or recognized at the time. In the 1920s and 1930s, researchers started studying the health hazards of asbestos exposure.

There were calls for regulations from the 1940s through the 1960s because of growing concerns. The first federal regulations addressing asbestos exposure were implemented in the 1940s. These early regulations focused on limiting occupational exposure. There were also more safety standards for workers in occupations with exposure.

It was in the 1970s that it became public knowledge that asbestos exposure was potentially hazardous. Several lawsuits brought by asbestos workers and their families became high-profile and drew attention to the health consequences. More studies were also published during this time that created a definitive link between asbestos exposure and certain diseases.

Regulatory agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started to respond to the growing evidence, taking more significant steps to regulate asbestos. 

In 1971, OSHA established the first federal workplace standards for asbestos exposure, including ventilation and protective equipment requirements. The EPA also included regulatory efforts in the Clean Air Act Amendments as well as the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

Through the 1980s and 90s, there were significant declines in the use of asbestos in the United States, with some forms being entirely banned. Many industries also started voluntarily phasing out their use of products because of public pressure and concerns about liability.

While major progress was made to regulate asbestos, the issues now stem primarily from existing buildings and infrastructure that contain it. Federal and state regulations govern removal and remediation practices to limit exposure, and there’s ongoing research to monitor asbestos-related diseases and improve prevention and control.

When Was Asbestos Banned Officially?

The most significant regulatory action occurred in 1989 when the EPA issued the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule. That rule was intended to ban almost all materials containing asbestos, but it was overturned in 1991. As a result, only a partial implementation occurred.

In April 2022, the EPA proposed a Ban on Ongoing Uses of Asbestos. That move was meant to prohibit the ongoing use of the only type of asbestos still known to be used and imported into the U.S., chrysotile asbestos. The rule was finalized in March 2024.

The EPA has set compliance deadlines to transition away from using chrysotile asbestos. The law does require a reasonable transition period. The ban on the ongoing use of asbestos was the first to be finalized under 2016 amendments made to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which garnered nearly unanimous support from Congress.

It’s also important to note that despite the changes that went into effect this year, many buildings, products and structures containing asbestos were made or constructed before regulations were in place. Asbestos-containing materials are still found in older buildings, ships, infrastructure and industrial facilities.

Removing materials containing asbestos can be expensive, complex and hazardous, so numerous challenges come with replacing it in existing infrastructure. Many building owners and operators decide to manage the asbestos in place with measures like encasement or encapsulation instead of complete removal.

The Long Latency Period of Mesothelioma

While there has been a major effort to regulate asbestos, you might also wonder why new cases of mesothelioma are still being diagnosed. 

One reason is because of the long latency period. The latency period refers to the time between an initial asbestos exposure and the development of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma. The period can range from 20-50 years and sometimes longer.

As a result, someone may have been exposed to asbestos decades ago and now develop symptoms of mesothelioma long after that.

Factors contributing to the long latency period of mesothelioma include:

  • Slow disease progression that occurs as embedded asbestos fibers cause scarring and inflammation. It can take many years for enough accumulated damage to trigger the development of cancerous cells.
  • Mesothelioma exposure is linked with cumulative exposure over extended periods, so even low levels of asbestos exposure over time increase the risk of mesothelioma.
  • Factors like individual health status influence the development and subsequent progression of mesothelioma.

Despite banning asbestos and stricter regulations, the legacy continues to affect people today. The widespread presence of asbestos-containing materials also poses ongoing removal challenges.

Please reach out for a free consultation with our legal team if you or someone you love is dealing with the effects of asbestos exposure. There are legal and other options available for you to receive compensation as you grapple with the consequences of asbestos exposure.

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