Five Things You Need to Know about Asbestos
Many people think asbestos exposure is a thing of the past, but today, it remains a deadly public health concern.
The term “asbestos” refers to any of six fibrous minerals. Asbestos fibers are strong, light and heat-resistant and have been used for more than a century in construction, insulation and fireproofing. Scientists have long recognized that when asbestos fibers become airborne and people inhale them, they can cause cancer and painful, usually fatal diseases. Here are fiv...
The term “asbestos” refers to any of six fibrous minerals. Asbestos fibers are strong, light and heat-resistant and have been used for more than a century in construction, insulation and fireproofing. Scientists have long recognized that when asbestos fibers become airborne and people inhale them, they can cause cancer and painful, usually fatal diseases.
Here are five things you may not know about asbestos in the U.S., compiled by EWG Action Fund. EWG Action Fund, a separate sister organization of EWG, is a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization that promotes health and sustainable policies. EWG Action Fund recently launched a campaign called “Asbestos Nation” to raise public awareness about the continued pervasiveness of asbestos in America.
- Asbestos is still legal in the United States.
In 1989, after a comprehensive 10-year study of the effects of asbestos, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered a phase-out of asbestos and a ban on many products containing it. The asbestos industry took the EPA to court and in 1991, won a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit throwing out most of EPA’s rule. Ever since, EPA has been hamstrung in its efforts to ban not only asbestos but also other dangerous materials. Today, more than 50 other nations have banned the substance, but the U.S. continues to allow industry to expose the public to asbestos.
- Asbestos kills more people than skin cancer.
Asbestos-related disease kills as many as 15,000 Americans a year, according to EWG Action Fund’s analysis of data complied by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asbestos-related deaths fall into three categories:
- Mesothelioma: a cancer that attacks the lining surrounding organs. Most victims die within months;
- Asbestosis: a deep scarring of the lungs that makes breathing difficult and painful, suffocating victims; and
- Other lung cancer: caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.
- No safe level exists for asbestos exposure.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns employers and workers that there is “no ‘safe’ level of asbestos exposure for any asbestos fiber.” Even brief asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma.
- The U.S. imports asbestos and products that contain it.
An EWG Action Fund analysis of federal trade records shows that more than 8.2 million pounds of raw asbestos and hundreds of pounds of asbestos waste and products containing asbestos arrived in U.S. ports between 2006 and last year. More asbestos arrived overland from Canada and Mexico.
- Asbestos is all around you.
About 25 million American homes, mostly older ones, have asbestos-based attic insulation (called Zonolite or vermiculite). Many more have asbestos in pipes, flooring, roof or wall shingles or ceiling finishes. Asbestos can sometimes show up in kitchen appliances, cement sheets and some heat-resistant fabric and clothing. EWG Action Fund’s “Consumer’s Guide to Asbestos” provides a more comprehensive list.
The bottom line is, asbestos is still legal, still lethal and still everywhere. Millions of Americans have been exposed to asbestos, and millions more will likely face exposure in the future.
Congress is taking steps to help protect Americans from asbestos. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) recently introduced the Reducing Exposure to Asbestos Database (READ) Act (H.R. 2030) in the U.S. House of Representatives to increase transparency around the continued use of asbestos in the United States. The READ Act would require companies that manufacture, import or handle asbestos to report that information annually to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and to disclose whether any of these products were in publicly accessible locations over the previous year. The EPA would compile this information in a public online database that would allow Americans to see whether asbestos was in their workplaces, their children’s schools or other places in their communities. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced a similar bill in the Senate.
The READ Act stands in sharp contrast to a damaging bill moving through the House. Rep. Blake Farenthold’s (R-Tex.) Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (FACT) Act (H.R. 526) favors asbestos companies and major corporations over the men and women made ill by asbestos exposure. If passed, the Farenthold bill would deplete dwindling trust resources set aside to compensate victims of asbestos diseases, and it would publish private information about those victims on the Internet—adding insult to injury.
Companies who hid the dangers of asbestos from workers and the American public for decades do not need a leg up over asbestos victims and their families.