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Asbestos Manufacturing, Exposure and Abatement History

Information from an Experienced New York Asbestos Lawyer

Asbestos is the generic classification for six silicate minerals with fire retardant properties. People and asbestos share a long and turbulent relationship. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness, please contact The Williams Law Firm, P.C. today. Led by our founding New York asbestos lawyer, our team has recovered millions of dollars for our clients and is prepared to walk you through your legal options.

THE TIME TO TAKE ACTION IS NOW. CALL US AT (855) 575-6376 TODAY.

ASBESTOS THROUGHOUT HISTORY

One of the first known texts to reference asbestos was an ancient geological study by Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle. He described a fibrous stone that failed to deteriorate when set to flame. Greece later became home to the first asbestos quarry.

People quickly figured out how to weave asbestos threads into an assortment of durable wares. By the first century A.D., doctors were using handkerchiefs made with asbestos because the cloth could be purified using fire and then used again. Other early asbestos fabrications included clothing, house wares, theater curtains and flame-proof suits. By the Age of Discovery, European scientists and manufacturers had become fixated with asbestos and its myriad practical applications.

ASBESTOS DANGERS ILLUMINATED

It may be tempting to blame the one-time mainstream use of asbestos on naiveté. However, historians began noting its potential dangers going back nearly as far as the use of asbestos itself. Consider that the ancient Roman politician and author Pliny the Younger’s writings describe respiratory illness among slaves who worked in asbestos mines.

In fact, the rise of asbestos manufacturing happened concurrently with an uptick in the reported cases of asbestos-related illness. Doctors began to chronicle an increase in lung problems and related fatalities in asbestos mining towns around the turn of the twentieth century.

By 1924, the death of British textile factory worker Nellie Kershaw marked the first instance in which workplace or job site asbestos exposure was directly linked to lethal pulmonary disease.

ASBESTOS MANUFACTURING MILESTONES

Despite the signs that asbestos could cause respiratory issues, it continued to be an in-demand material for decades. Here are other notable dates in the history of asbestos manufacturing and scientific discovery:

  • 1828: THE UNITED STATES ISSUED THE FIRST KNOWN PATENT FOR AN ASBESTOS PRODUCT, STEAM ENGINE INSULATION.
  • 1834: THE UNITED KINGDOM ISSUED ITS FIRST PATENT FOR THE USE OF ASBESTOS IN SAFES. BRITISH ENTREPRENEURS FOLLOWED UP THAT INVENTION WITH ASBESTOS MACHINE LUBRICANT, ASBESTOS-LINED FIRE BOXES, AND ASBESTOS ELECTRICAL WIRING INSULATION.
  • 1868: THE UNITED STATES ISSUED THE FIRST PATENT FOR ASBESTOS ROOFING PRODUCTS.
  • 1871: GLASGOW BECAME HOME TO THE PATENT ASBESTOS MANUFACTURING COMPANY. INDUSTRIAL MINING OF THE MATERIAL BEGAN SOON THEREAFTER.
  • 1906: BRITISH HISTORIANS MARK THE FIRST DOCUMENTED DEATH FROM ASBESTOS-RELATED ILLNESS.
  • 1930: BRITISH PATHOLOGIST DR. WILLIAM EDMUND COOKE AUTHORED THE BRITISH PARLIAMENT-COMMISSIONED REPORT, “OCCURRENCE OF PULMONARY FIBROSIS AND OTHER PULMONARY AFFECTIONS IN ASBESTOS WORKERS.” IT SPARKED A GLOBAL SHIFT IN ASBESTOS REGULATION AND MANUFACTURING.
  • 1931: THE FIRST USE OF THE TERM MESOTHELIOMA OCCURRED IN ASBESTOS-RELATED MEDICAL ARTICLES.

By the turn of the 20th century, asbestos was part of myriad commercial products. Some of the most common among them included:

  • DRYWALL
  • PLASTER
  • VINYL FLOORING AND ADHESIVES
  • ROOFING TARS, SIDING, FELTS AND SHINGLES
  • COUNTERTOPS
  • PIPES
  • POPCORN CEILINGS
  • FIRE-RESISTANT PROTECTIVE GEAR
  • CAULK
  • INDUSTRIAL AND MARINE GASKETS
  • BRAKES
  • VARIOUS TYPES OF INSULATION
  • HVAC CONNECTORS
  • ASBESTOS AND DISEASE

When Was Asbestos Banned?

Most industrialized nations failed to pass substantive laws regulating the use of asbestos until very late in the twentieth century.

Today, despite knowing the health hazards connected to asbestos, it is still not banned in the United States and continues to be imported into the U.S. from other countries. The regulation of asbestos for safety reasons in the U.S. began with the Clean Air Act of 1970.

Two amendments to the Clean Air Act declared all types of asbestos fibers toxic. This act allowed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set limits for asbestos exposure and create rules under the Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). The purpose of these standards was to minimize the release of asbestos fibers into the air during activities involving the handling of this mineral.

In 1976, the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) was created. This act gave the EPA authority to restrict the use of asbestos and require recordkeeping by companies that used asbestos. While there were still no bans on asbestos at this time, the government was taking steps to regulate its use and minimize human exposure. For example, the TSCA set limits on asbestos and other toxic pollutants.

More than 10 years later, on July 12, 1989, the EPA issued a final notice that banned most asbestos-containing products under section 6 of the TSCA. This notice stated that the “manufacture, importation, processing and distribution of commerce of asbestos” in almost all products were prohibited to reduce the unreasonable risks presented to humans by exposure to asbestos.

However, two years later, in 1991, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned the EPA’s final rule. This decision meant that the EPA’s rule only banned new uses of asbestos in products that would occur after 1989. This included a ban on asbestos-containing rollboard, flooring felt, and certain types of paper.

Where Do Asbestos Regulations Stand Today? 

Today, more than 50 years after the Clean Air Act was first passed, asbestos is still not prohibited in the U.S. In fact, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission, nearly 114 metric tons of asbestos were imported into the U.S. in the first three months of 2022. However, asbestos mines were shut down in 2002 and the production of most new products containing asbestos was halted by the EPA’s rule in 1989.

Currently, more than 60 countries have banned the use of asbestos. The United States is not one of them. It is still legal to import the mineral into the country and use small amounts of asbestos in certain products. Most government regulations define a “small amount” as containing less than 1 percent of asbestos. According to the National Cancer Institute, however, there is no safe amount of asbestos or level of exposure. Studies show that being exposed to any amount of asbestos even once could cause related diseases.

As of 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency is still attempting to ban asbestos nationwide. In April 2022, the EPA put forward a Proposed Ban of Ongoing Uses of Asbestos. If finalized, this law would protect workers and their families by prohibiting ongoing uses of chrysotile asbestos – the only form of asbestos that is currently allowed to be imported into the U.S. It would prohibit the use of asbestos in products such as asbestos diaphragms, automotive brakes and automotive sheet gaskets. It would rectify the 1991 decision to overturn the EPA’s asbestos ban. 

Some states have passed their own regulations with stricter laws against the use of asbestos compared to federal law. In New Jersey, for example, the sale and distribution of asbestos-containing products were outlawed in 2019. Other states have enacted heavy fines for asbestos offenses, including Kansas and Hawaii. In New York, several state agencies regulate asbestos – including the Department of Health and Department of Labor – but it is not banned.

Seek the Justice You Deserve

To protect their own bottom lines, many companies across numerous industries ignored, hid, or neglected their own asbestos issues, putting employees, customers, and the public at risk. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, then our firm is ready to help you hold these companies accountable.

Start exploring your options today. Fill out our online form to request a free case evaluation with our trusted New York asbestos attorney.

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