Asbestos has been used in every state because of its useful properties of resisting heat, fire, and electricity, but it also causes disease in many people exposed to it. Asbestos laws vary by state and can help you understand your right to a safe workplace. They also guide your legal options if you have been exposed.
Federal Asbestos Laws and Regulations
Since the 1970s, the government has passed laws regulating the use and abatement of asbestos. Those laws exist at the federal level through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and other agencies.
Although individual states can regulate the use of asbestos, several federal laws protect individuals from the harm caused by dangerous substances:
- The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) of 1986 and the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act (ASHARA) of 1990 regulate the use of asbestos in schools and other public buildings. The EPA receives funding and power to accredit building inspectors and provides abatement through these laws.
- The EPA also regulates asbestos contamination of outdoor air through the Clean Air Act. The Safe Drinking Water Act manages water contamination.
- The EPA may also include asbestos as a pollutant when naming Superfund sites, which are abandoned hazardous areas.
- To protect those who work with or around asbestos, there are guidelines through the EPA and OSHA. These include OSHA’s General Industry Standards and Construction Standards and the EPA’s Worker Protection Rule, as well as the previously mentioned laws.
- The Mine Safety and Health Administration regulates workers in asbestos mines.
- The Consumer Product Safety Commission protects consumers from dangerous asbestos-containing products.
Federal Asbestos Bans
Federal laws ban certain uses of asbestos. States must follow these bans regardless of their own laws.
When Was Asbestos Banned?
The asbestos regulation timeline began officially in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the EPA attempted to create a total ban.
In 1989 the EPA banned all products containing asbestos and issued a plan for phasing them out; however, in 1991, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision. The U.S. is one of a few developed countries that still allow asbestos in some materials.
Currently, there are few products banned across the country; although, many individual states have their own bans. Federal law prohibits asbestos in:
- Flooring felt
- Commercial paper
- Specialty paper
- Corrugated paper
- Spray insulation
- Wall patching compounds
- Artificial fireplace embers
When Did Asbestos Stop Being Used?
While there is currently no total asbestos ban in the U.S., most companies stopped using it by the 1970s or early 1980s at the latest.
Today, asbestos materials may be imported in some materials and products, including aftermarket car brakes and clutches. It is also still used in chlor-alkali plants that manufacture chlorine.
Examples of State Asbestos Laws and Regulations
States must follow federal regulations regarding asbestos; however, federal laws are not thoroughly restrictive. This has caused several states to develop their own laws regarding the use of asbestos with stricter regulations.
States are also responsible for implementing federal policies. For instance, states are responsible for enforcing ASHARA and AHERA. Several states also choose to administer and enforce OSHA laws regarding worker safety. Others, however, leave this task to the federal government.
Here are a few examples of how states have taken matters into their own hands, legislating asbestos use:
- In 1987, Minnesota passed the Asbestos Abatement Act. It set regulations for asbestos abatement projects, including licensing and certification of workers, reporting requirements, and limits for airborne asbestos after abatement. Minnesota legislators have not yet banned all asbestos-containing products; however, many support that move. The state outlaws the use of asbestos insulation in all new construction.
- Because California has a long history of mining and shipping, the state has seen high rates of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions. For this reason, the state instituted several asbestos regulations in addition to federal law. California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health regulates the certification of asbestos consultants and also regulates the training of workers who may be exposed to asbestos. Projects involving asbestos must be registered with the Division. Employers also have a responsibility to provide protective measures for workers. All workers involved in projects that contain more than 100 square feet of the surface area of asbestos materials must pass an asbestos certification exam.
- Like California, New York has a long history with asbestos due to industry. Several state agencies regulate asbestos usage and include requirements for licensing and certifying workers, keeping records, and abating asbestos. The New York Department of Health regulates worker training, which includes an examination. The Solid Waste Management Facilities regulates the transport and disposal of asbestos-containing materials.
- In Texas, shipyard, chemical, and oil industries have led to numerous state-level regulations on asbestos use and training. The state has a history of exposure and resulting litigation, which have prompted more regulations than other states. The Texas Administrative Code includes regulations designed to reduce airborne asbestos, as well as regulations for training, licensing, abatement, record keeping, and penalties.
- In 1992, Texas passed the Asbestos Health Protection Rules to define asbestos and asbestos-containing materials. These guidelines set reporting requirements for projects involving asbestos and made provisions for licensing. The Department of State Health Services is responsible for enforcing these rules.
- In 2010, Washington became the first state to ban asbestos in brake pads and shoes. Most automotive brakes contained asbestos in the past, but American manufacturers phased these out. Imported and after-market car parts still contain asbestos and put workers and car enthusiasts at risk. Washington’s Better Brakes Rule totally outlawed asbestos in brakes as well as some other toxic substances.
State Laws Regulating Asbestos Legal Actions
In addition to laws that regulate the use, testing, and removal of asbestos, states legislate how victims of asbestos exposure can seek justice and recover damages. Some of these laws are general for personal injury, while others are specific to asbestos exposure cases.
Statute of Limitations
Every state sets a time limit on filing an asbestos lawsuit. This is called the statute of limitations. The time limit is usually two to three years from the time an individual received a diagnosis of an asbestos illness.
In the past, the clock began at the time of asbestos exposure. Landmark cases were responsible for changing this to the time the disease was discovered. This change was important because mesothelioma has a latency period of decades. Most people do not receive a diagnosis for many years after their exposure.
Most cases have some type of contributory negligence law for personal injury cases. It means that if the plaintiff shares some of the responsibility for their injury, their ability to collect damages is limited.
For most states, the law reduces a victim’s compensation. In states with stricter laws, an individual may not be able to collect any damages if they shared any part of the blame in their own injury.
Caps on Damages
Many states place limits on the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover in a personal injury lawsuit. Most caps are placed only on noneconomic damages. This is the compensation a plaintiff may be awarded for intangible harm, like pain and suffering.
Some states also cap punitive damages. These are the damages awarded when a company is found to have engaged in particularly bad conduct. For instance, they might be awarded if a company actively hid information about asbestos risks from employees.
Some people developed mesothelioma after secondhand asbestos exposure. Also known as take-home exposure, this occurred when a member of the household worked with asbestos and brought the fibers home on their clothing or body.
Some states allow secondhand exposure victims to hold asbestos companies liable for their resulting illnesses. Other states do not. In those that allow it, the argument is that the companies had a duty to warn workers and their family members of the risks of asbestos exposure.
Because asbestos diseases are severe and often cause a shortened life expectancy, some states offer an expedited process for lawsuits. Many plaintiffs die before their cases resolve, leaving family members to carry on with wrongful death claims.
A lawyer might take a client’s asbestos case to a particular jurisdiction solely to attempt to get a larger award. Some states or areas often result in higher awards to asbestos plaintiffs. Choosing a jurisdiction like this is known as forum shopping.
States sometime limit forum shopping to prevent out-of-state cases. They help keep lawsuits closer to the city or state where the victim encountered asbestos.
A lot of companies took on asbestos liabilities after acquiring other companies. These successor companies often become responsible for the lawsuits brought against the original, or predecessor companies.
Laws limit successor liability to a fair market value of the predecessor company before the acquisition. These laws protect companies, not asbestos victims.
Asbestos Trust Fund Claims Disclosure
Victims of asbestos exposure are often eligible to seek compensation through asbestos trusts. These are funds set up by companies that filed for bankruptcy over asbestos litigation. The trusts compensate victims with qualifying claims but do not prevent them from also filing asbestos lawsuits against other companies.
Some states have begun to pass laws that require plaintiffs to disclose claims they have made with trusts and any compensation received. This then reduces the amount of damages they can recover in a lawsuit.
The Future of Asbestos Laws
State laws regarding the use of asbestos will continue to evolve. While federal rules may remain unchanged, individual states can make changes to protect the public, especially workers most at risk of exposure.
They can also make it more difficult for victims to collect damages. For instance, states are increasingly adding laws to increase transparency involving trust fund claims.
In terms of federal laws, the move to completely ban asbestos continues to progress. Most recently, legislators reintroduced a bill now called the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2023. If passed, the law would create a total asbestos ban.
States are also regulating asbestos litigation by putting caps on plaintiff settlements. These laws will evolve as litigation continues over mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. If you have an asbestos illness, contact an experienced mesothelioma lawyer for a free consultation.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Rod De Llano, Esquire
Rod De Llano was born and raised in Laredo, Texas. He graduated from Princeton University with a B.A. in Economics, and earned a law degree from the University of Texas. After working for an international law firm for several years, Rod formed a law firm dedicated to representing persons injured by exposure to asbestos products. For over 20 years, Rod has fought for persons diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. His clients have recovered over $1 billion over the years.