Asbestos

Asbestos Products

Dr. Irving J. Selikoff (1915-1992) was a major contributor to research on asbestos disease. His findings led New York to issue a complete ban on all spray-on asbestos products in 1970. This was followed in 1973 by a similar ban on the federal level by the newly-established Environmental Protection Agency. However, corporate lobbyists for the asbestos industry were able to pressure Congress to gut any provisions that would have protected workers and consumers. Their efforts resulted in a loophole known as the "Grace Rule" (for asbestos producer W.R. Grace & Company); this loophole allowed the industry to market any product as "asbestos free" provided the actual asbestos content did not exceed 1 percent.

In 1989, the EPA, using authority given by the federal government, attempted to ban asbestos completely by introducing the "Asbestos Ban and Phase-out Rule." This regulation would have banned asbestos entirely by 1996. However, the 5th District Court of Appeals overturned the rule in 1991.

After control of the U.S. Congress changed hands in 2006, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) was finally able to pass her legislation. However, when the bill went to the House of Representatives in the fall of 2007, the bill was edited, making it almost completely meaningless.

When asbestos-contaminated toys and modeling clay was identified on store shelves and in art classrooms in the weeks that followed however, the U.S. citizen-taxpayers began applying their own pressure. After several months of angry phone calls, letters and e-mails from justifiably enraged constituents, Representative Gene Greene (D-TX) introduced a new bill in September 2008. H.R. 6903 seeks to plug the loopholes in the Murray asbestos bill that were created by corporate lobbyists by banning all asbestos in consumer products and limiting the legal amount in common building materials and other substances such as talc to .001 percent.

Today there are still more than 3000 everyday products and materials that have ACMs and are nonetheless sold legally in the United States as being "asbestos free."

Asbestos Products Today

The vast majority of asbestos-contaminated products fall into three broad categories:

  • Building materials: this also includes insulation and roofing products as well as adhesives and joint compounds
  • Fireproofing materials: asbestos continues to be incorporated into fire brick, thermal coverings, laboratory equipment and protective clothing such as mittens and aprons
  • Automotive Products: hood liners, brake shoes, clutch plates, heat seals and gaskets and valve rings all contain asbestos.

Asbestos is not just an ingredient added by design to various products. The most infamous examples of asbestos contamination recently have been the children's toys and modeling clay referred to above, but others include talc - the primary ingredient in baby powder, and taconite, a by-product of iron mining that has been used for highway construction. The former has been implicated in the development of ovarian cancer, while an abnormally high number of Minnesota iron miners who have worked with the latter are being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

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