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Asbestos Legal Information by State

Asbestos has been used throughout history as insulation, fireproofing material, and for other purposes. It has many uses because of its unique chemical and physical properties. Unfortunately it also has certain properties that make it harmful to humans. Inhaling the loose fibers of this mineral can cause asbestosis, lung cancer, and the rare but aggressive type of cancer called mesothelioma.

Since the 1970s there have been laws in place regulating the use and abatement of asbestos, with bans in place for certain uses. Those laws exist at the federal level through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and other agencies, but states have also made their own laws regulating how and where asbestos can be used, who can remove it, and how people need to be trained to work with and around asbestos.

Federal Laws and Regulations

Although individual states have the ability to regulate and pass laws regarding the use of asbestos, and even to ban it, there are also several federal laws in place designed to protect people in all states from the harm caused by asbestos. Asbestos use in public buildings and schools is regulated by the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) or 1986 and the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act (ASHARA) of 1990. These laws give the EPA the funding and power to accredit workers for inspecting these buildings for asbestos and providing abatement if it is found.

The EPA also regulates asbestos contamination of outdoor air through the Clean Air Act and contamination of water through the Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA may also include asbestos as a pollutant when naming superfund sites, those waste sites that have been abandoned and are hazardous.

To protect workers around asbestos, there are regulations 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 above laws that protect workers in public buildings and schools. The Mine Safety and Health Administration regulates workers in asbestos mines and the Consumer Product Safety Commission protects consumers from dangerous products, including those containing asbestos.

Federal Asbestos Bans

In 1989 the EPA banned almost all products containing asbestos and issued a plan for phasing them out in the U.S. However, in 1991 that decision was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and now the U.S. is one of few developed countries that still allows the use of asbestos in many materials.

Currently there are only a few products that are banned across the country, although many individual states have their own bans in place. Federal law prohibits the use of asbestos in flooring felt, commercial paper, specialty paper, rollboard, and corrugated paper. Insulation with asbestos that is friable—meaning it can be easily crumbled by hand to release fibers—and asbestos insulation that is sprayed on are both banned everywhere. Asbestos is also banned from use in wall patching compounds and artificial fireplace embers.

Examples of State Asbestos Laws and Regulations

States must follow the federal regulations regarding asbestos bans, use of asbestos in public buildings and schools, and abatement and surveying training and certification. However, these laws are not as restrictive as they could be, so several states have developed their own laws regarding the use of asbestos that put stricter regulations and bans in place.

Most states are also responsible for putting the federal policies in place. For instance, most states are responsible for enforcing ASHARA and AHERA. Several states also choose to administer and enforce the OSHA laws regarding worker safety, while others leave it to the federal government. The following are just a few examples of how states have taken matters into their own hands and legislated the use of asbestos:

  • 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 in the aftermath of abatement. Minnesota legislators have not yet banned all asbestos-containing products, but many have supported that move and it may happen in the future. 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 in its population. For this reason the state has instituted a number of asbestos regulations in addition to those set by federal law. California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health sets regulations for the certification of professionals called asbestos consultants and also regulates the training of workers who may be exposed to asbestos. Projects that involve asbestos must be registered with the Division and employers in the state have responsibility to provide strict 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.
  • New York. Like California, New York has a long history with asbestos because of its industries. Several state agencies are involved in regulating asbestos and the regulations include requirements for licensing and certifying workers, keeping records, and abating asbestos. The State Department of Health regulates how workers are trained to be around asbestos, which includes an examination. The Solid Waste Management Facilities regulates how asbestos-containing materials are transported and disposed.
  • In Texas, the shipyard, chemical, and oil industries prevalent there have led to numerous state-level regulations on asbestos use and training. The state has a long history of exposure and resulting litigation, which have also prompted more regulations than some states have. The Texas Administrative Code includes regulations that are designed to reduce airborne asbestos, as well as regulations for training, licensing, abatement, recordkeeping, and penalties.

In 1992 the state passed the Texas Asbestos Health Protection Rules to define asbestos and asbestos-containing materials and to set rules for reporting requirements for projects involving asbestos and for licensing. Rules like these are enforced in the state by the Department of State Health Services.

State laws and rules regarding the use of asbestos will likely continue to evolve and change. While the federal rules may stay the same, each individual state is in a better position to make changes that will protect the public and those workers that are most at risk of exposure. For instance, the state of Washington just banned the use of hazardous materials, including asbestos, in brakes used in cars and other vehicles. States are also passing laws that regulate how asbestos litigation works, putting caps on how much a plaintiff can get in a settlement. These laws are expected to keep changing as litigation continues over mesothelioma and other illnesses caused by exposure.

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