Without further thought and study, the question “Is asbestos banned in the US?” might seem unnecessary. Of course it is banned, one might think. So what are the facts? On July 12, 1989, EPA issued a final rule banning most asbestos-containing products. BUT, in 1991, this regulation was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. As a result of the Court’s decision, only the following specific asbestos-containing products remain banned: flooring felt, rollboard, and corrugated, commercial, or specialty paper. This means that it is legal to use asbestos in any other product than before mentioned.
So, is asbestos banned in the US? Clearly, the answer is no.
The regulation, allthough, continues to ban the use of asbestos in products that have not historically contained asbestos, otherwise referred to as “new uses” of asbestos. And allthough asbestos is not banned, authorities has set strict regulations for exposure levels.
What Are the US Regulations for Asbestos?
The earliest evidence of asbestos-associated disease in workers was found in the 1930s by British studies. Today, we now know that the toxic effects of asbestos depend on the nature and extent of exposure, particularly on the:
- Concentration of asbestos fibers involved in the exposure
- Duration of exposure
- Frequency of exposure
- Type of asbestos fibers involved in the exposure, and
- Dimensions and durability of the asbestos fibers
When the dangers became fully known, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and OSHA began establishing standards for asbestos in the 1970s. U.S. regulatory agencies such as EPA and OSHA now recognize six asbestos and asbestiform minerals:
- Actinolite asbestos
- Amosite asbestos
- Anthophyllite asbestos
- Chrysotile asbestos
- Crocidolite asbestos
- Tremolite asbestos
as legally regulated forms of asbestos out of the group of asbestiform minerals.
Asbestiform minerals are defined as crystal aggregates displaying these characteristics: groups of separable, long, thin, strong, and flexible fibers arranged in parallel. Currently there is discussion underway to include as regulated substances asbestiform minerals that may have similar health effects to the previously mentioned forms of asbestos. However, nothing has been finalized at this time .
Currently, there are standards for asbestos in
- Drinking water
- Some consumer products
- Workplace air
In 1986, OSHA in Standard 29 CFR 1910.1001 established the current permissible exposure limit (PEL) for asbestos in the workplace: (0.1 fibers/cc of air as a time weighed average) [OSHA 2012]. PELs are allowable exposure levels in workplace air averaged over an 8-hour shift of a 40 hour workweek. There are also OSHA standards (29 CFR 1915.1001) for shipyards and construction (1926.1101). Additionally, OSHA standards (1915.1001 and 1926.1101) requires employers of all workers whose work exposes them to asbestos above the PEL or excursion limit (1.0 f/cc over 30-minute period) to
- Provide training in the engineering controls, work practices, and proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Train workers in safety before beginning work and annually
- Train workers regarding the health effects of asbestos exposure
- Inform workers of the relationship between smoking, asbestos exposure and increased risk of lung cancer
In addition, OSHA requires employers of workers who are exposed to asbestos above the PEL and who are employed in certain asbestos industries to
- Provide and make sure of correct use of PPE (respirators, protective clothing like coveralls and goggles)
- To undergo medical surveillance in order to identify those with signs of asbestos-associated disease, remove them from further exposure
- Comply with regulations requiring documentation for work-related injury claims
- Provide information to workers about where they can go for help to stop smoking
Components of the required medical surveillance include:
- Chest radiograph
- Physical examination
- Spirometric test
- Standard questionnaire
ATSDR does not consider the use of OSHA’s PEL for workplace exposures to be appropriate for environmentally exposed populations since residential and/or environmental exposures are 24 hours a day year round, much longer than the typical 8-hour day and 40- hour workweek exposures of workers. Children and the elderly, who are not typically exposed in the workplace, may be more susceptible to exposure. EPA has established a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for asbestos in drinking water of 7 MFL (million fibers per liter > 10 µm in length) in drinking water. Asbestos in drinking water comes from two main sources:
- Decay of water mains constructed of asbestoscontaining cement
- Erosions of naturally occurring asbestos deposits into watersheds
In addition, EPA has
- Banned spraying of asbestos in building interiors (for fireproofing and ceilings)
- Developed guidelines for proper treatment of inplace asbestos in old buildings
- Recommended “no visible emissions” of asbestos
- Regulated demolition of buildings with asbestos (NESHAP rules)
- Regulated uses of asbestos in industrial products and construction
The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1982 (CFR 40, Part 763, Subpart E) requires that local education agencies:
- Inspect schools for asbestos-containing material using certified inspectors
- Analyze these materials for asbestos content
- Post results and notify parents and employees if asbestos is found
- Test air levels following clean-up
- Develop appropriate management plans
- Communicate openly about any asbestos abatement needed
- Maintain appropriate records
EPA also warned school authorities that power buffing and power stripping of asbestos-tile floors in schools produces significant airborne asbestos levels. Floor maintenance
must be performed by hand to prevent release of asbestos fibers.
Is blue and brown asbestos banned in the US?
No, you will not find those types of asbestos banned in the US either. Blue and brown asbestos are recognized as the most dangerous types of asbestos. Allthough not banned, those two forms of amphibole asbestos that previously were most commercially important, amosite (brown asbestos) and crocidolite (blue asbestos), are no longer in use. The reason is wide recognition of their severe toxicity, and industries has chosen to not use those types in manufacturing of products any longer. But, blue and brown asbestos still linger in up to 3000 products manufactured before the dangers were realized.
Sources and more info:
“Is asbestos banned in the US?”
United Stated Environmental Protection Agency – Asbestos Laws and Regulations
Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR)
ATSDR – “Case Studies in Environmental Medicine Asbestos Toxicity”