Industry News

Hooray!  A New Chapter In U.S. Asbestos History

I’m weeping.  Give me a minute.

These are happy tears, though.  Happy because, after thirty-plus years since a partial ban on asbestos in the United States was overturned, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has instituted a new regulation banning the ugly stuff altogether.

Chrysotile asbestos, which is pretty-much the only form currently in legal use in the U.S., is going to be phased out of various uses over the next six months to five years.

They use that stuff to (believe it or not) purify water, and to make the chlorine bleach in your laundry room!

Now, don’t weep for me.  I’ll still be in the asbestos abatement business until all of the stuff is gone, and since it’s been included in everything from drywall to pipe insulation for years, the abatement business will be thriving for the foreseeable future.

And don’t be fooled.  Bad drugs like cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, and meth are also illegal in the U.S.  But how much of that ugly stuff still finds its way here?

In addition, there are still some asbestos-containing products that we import, probably without knowing they contain asbestos.  Makeup.  Faux jewelry.  Even some building materials.

Why does this matter?  Because asbestos kills.  It’s the leading cause of some forms of lung cancer (such as mesothelioma) for which there are no cures, and which kill tens of thousands of Americans every year.

Here’s a very-brief History of American Asbestos, to illustrate how we got to this point:

  • A hundred-plus years ago, people were far more afraid of fire than of cancer.  Some April Fools (and other fools) would smoke in bed and burn themselves up.
  • Asbestos – which is basically a rock – was found to have flame-retardant properties, so everything from floor tiles to electric blankets (really!) started to include asbestos.
  • Also, being a rock, asbestos was super-cheap to use in manufacturing.
  • People still smoked – just not in bed, so much – and so they started getting diagnosed with lung cancer which was almost always blamed on the tobacco.
  • Someone figured out that asbestos, when “disturbed,” flakes off into little microscopic shards that float around unseen and undetected, and after a while, impale themselves in your lungs and don’t let go.
  • They also figured out that the type of lung cancer caused by asbestos is a sure death sentence.
  • So the federal government enacted a ban on the manufacture and mining of asbestos in the U.S. in 1989 (it’s still illegal to manufacture with asbestos here).
  • But in 1991, somebody (lobbyists?) talked them into peeling back the ban on importing asbestos.  So tons of the ugly stuff continued to arrive on our shores every year.
  • Even homes built recently have been found to have asbestos in the walls, floors, pipe insulation, etc.
  • Now, the EPA has decided to ban the stuff altogether, over the next few years, so things don’t get worse as we work away getting rid of the asbestos we already have – all around us.

I used to quip that you should punch yourself in the face if you thought asbestos was illegal in the United States.  You might still benefit from the type of harsh call to reality that can only be established by facial self-fisticuffs… but soon, if you think asbestos is illegal here, you might actually be right.

You don’t need to be petrified by the presence of asbestos in your home, as long as it’s undisturbed.  But something as seemingly-insignificant as a burst pipe or bad DIY project can put the ugly stuff into your air.  If you think you might have an asbestos problem, your best bet is to get the place tested.  And if you do have a problem, give us a call.  We’ll work until your place is asbestos free.