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Asbestos has been useful throughout history as insulation, fireproofing material, and other purposes. Because of its unique chemical and physical properties, asbestos has many uses. Unfortunately, asbestos also has properties that make it harmful to humans. Inhaling loose fibers of this mineral can cause asbestosis, lung cancer, and the rare but aggressive cancer called mesothelioma.
Since the 1970s, there have been 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. However, individual states have also enacted laws regulating asbestos use, who can perform removal, mandating proper training for those who work with this dangerous mineral.
Federal Laws and Regulations
Although individual states can regulate the use of asbestos, several federal laws protect individuals from the harm caused by asbestos. The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) or 1986 and the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act (ASHARA) of 1990 regulates the use of asbestos in schools and other public buildings. The EPA receives funding and power to accredit building inspectors and providing 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, abandoned hazardous areas.
To protect those who work with or around asbestos, there are guidelines in place 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 previous mentioned laws.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration regulates workers in asbestos mines while the Consumer Product Safety Commission protects consumers from dangerous asbestos-containing products.
Federal Asbestos Bans
In 1989 the EPA banned most products containing asbestos and issued a plan for phasing them out. However, in 1991 the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision. Now, the U.S. is one of few developed countries that still allows asbestos in some materials.
Currently, there are few products banned across the country, although many individual states have their own bans. Federal law prohibits the use of asbestos in flooring felt, commercial paper, specialty paper, rollboard, and corrugated paper. Insulation with friable asbestos (asbestos that can be easily crumbled) and asbestos insulation that is sprayed are banned nationwide. Asbestos is also banned from wall patching compounds and artificial fireplace embers.
Examples of State Asbestos Laws and Regulations
States must follow the 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 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 have 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 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 responsibility to provide protective measures for workers. All workers involved in projects that contain more than 100 square feet 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 State 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.
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. States are also regulating how asbestos litigation, putting caps on plaintiff settlements. These laws will evolve as litigation continues over mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
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.