Asbestos Laws

Summary

Asbestos litigation is the largest and longest-running civil law tort in the American justice system’s history. Torts are legal processes alleging wrongdoing against a victim or plaintiff by another party or parties referred to a defendant. These court applications ask for liability findings on the defendant's’ part. They seek compensation for incurred costs to plaintiffs as well as punitive actions.

Asbestos litigation requires an extensive knowledge of many rules and regulations pertaining to the asbestos industry. These include federal, state and localized laws.

There’s a big problem in litigating asbestos claims. No single, clear law regulates the asbestos industry. Nothing comprehensive governs the travesty that decades of asbestos exposure caused to millions of unsuspecting Americans. Law firms that litigate asbestos-related disease claims like mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis cases employ experienced attorneys. These attorneys spend their career studying laws, regulations and court rulings setting precedents for asbestos lawsuits, settlements and other compensation claims.

Lawyers experienced with American asbestos law are intimately familiar with two distinct legal areas. One is the wide range of federal and individual state statutes and regulations that frame asbestos material production, distribution and abatement. The other complex region is laws and court procedures about how asbestos laws apply to civil practice. Both legal arenas dictate how litigations are claimed and settled.

This legal jungle is no place for general law practitioners. Today, asbestos law practice is a highly-complex focus where litigators need full-time attention. Asbestos attorneys must know every detail of legal procedure pertaining to asbestos litigation and settlement precedent. These lawyers have extensive medical knowledge about the causes and actions of asbestos-related diseases. Attorneys must know which companies supplied which products containing asbestos materials and what avenues of financial compensation exist for their clients. They also have to know the history of how asbestos laws developed.

History of Asbestos Laws

American asbestos civil litigation began in the 1960s when the first information publicly surfaced about how dangerous asbestos exposure was to human health. This was well-known within asbestos industry boardrooms. However, many unscrupulous executives conspired to hide the fact their products were slowly killing thousands of Americans who innocently used them. Ultimately, this deadly secret backfired on hundreds of asbestos companies who now find themselves targets of talented lawyers using every available law to litigate them.

Humans have used asbestos for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians and Romans applied asbestos for fireproofing and strengthening products as well as insulating and lightening them. Even then, the health hazards were known. Asbestos exposure was called the disease of slaves because of lung damage to miners. Once the Industrial Revolution arrived, asbestos was in high demand.

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By the 1930s, medical processionals linked asbestos exposure with lung cancer and other diseases. The medical community warned legislators of the looming health disaster, but their information was ignored. Asbestos was too valuable to the American economy to enact controls, especially with World War II requiring an enormous amount of asbestos to protect military machines.

The first legal asbestos act in America came in 1970 when the U.S. federal government formed the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA listed asbestos as one of America’s most toxic substances and had the 1955 Clean Air Act amended to identify asbestos as an air pollutant. Asbestos officially became a toxin and, by now, it was the most common dangerous product in existence.

Asbestos civil litigation started in the 1980s when the evidence overwhelmingly supported how deadly asbestos exposure was. This started a series of motions forming the two distinct legal areas dealing with asbestos exposure control and compensation for those injured by negligent asbestos parties. Regulatory laws formed the control aspect of asbestos use while litigation law dictated how the courts and civilian agencies would process compensation claims. The two venues paralleled and supported each, and they’re still evolving today.

Significant Asbestos Legislation and Regulation

Contrary to popular belief, asbestos isn’t generally banned in America. Only a few specific products containing asbestos materials are identified and blacklisted. The vast majority of asbestos production and management is only controlled by laws and agency regulations that serve as safe-handling guidelines. Despite serious attempts by certain federal agencies and some dedicated legislators, asbestos is still present across the nation.

These are the significant asbestos laws and regulations:

  • Clean Air Act Amendment: The Environmental Protection Agency’s primary mandate was controlling America’s air quality. They forced amendments in 1970, 1977 and 1990 that included permissible exposure levels for asbestos fibers. The Clean Air Act is still the foundation for airborne asbestos standards, but it doesn’t deal with specific products.
  • Safe Drinking Water Act: This 1976 legislation dealt with cleaning up the United States’ water supply. Asbestos was a well-known water pollutant, and this act set asbestos tolerance limits for potable water.
  • Toxic Substances Control Act: The EPA became the nation’s leading authority on asbestos control. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was also enacted in 1976 and gave the EPA authority to designate how chemicals are developed, manufactured, distributed, stored and disposed of. Critics point out the TSCA doesn’t give the EPA any authority to enforce its provisions and this remains a serious flaw.
  • Federal Hazardous Substances Act: First legislated in 1960, the FHSA has been amended to specifically identify several asbestos-containing materials in everyday use. This law prohibited importation, manufacturing and distribution of only a small portion of overall asbestos products and has had little effect on health.
  • Asbestos Information Act: Congress passed the AIA in 1988 to raise public awareness on asbestos dangers. This federal legislation forced manufacturers to provide public information on products containing asbestos. This was specifically targeted at construction materials and did nothing to address the serious issue of existing asbestos products in buildings, vehicles and vessels.
  • Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act: By 1990, information on asbestos hazards created immense public fear. The U.S. federal government responded by declaring asbestos exposure a national emergency and passed the AHERA. This law did two important things—it began protecting schools built with asbestos products and mandated the EPA to accredit asbestos inspectors.
  • Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act: Also in 1990, the U.S. government reauthorized funds granted in 1984 to pay for asbestos clean-up in American schools. Funding was set at $3 billion but was nowhere near enough to deal with the national school abatement program
  • Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule: This was a 1988 attempt by the EPA to deal with asbestos products once and for all. Congress passed the legislation, but a court ruling overturned it in 1991. It was the last serious attempt to legally deal with asbestos control in America. Today, asbestos products have few actual bans. The only control measures are done by government agencies.

Government Agencies Regulating Asbestos Products

Sadly, being exposed to asbestos is not officially against the law in America. The only offenses lie deep within regulations set by civilian oversight agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

These are important agency rules and regulations concerning asbestos exposure control:

  • EPA Asbestos Worker Protection Rule
  • EPA Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants
  • OSHA Asbestos General Standards
  • OSHA Asbestos Construction Material Standards
  • CPSC Asbestos-Containing Product List
  • MSHA Surface and Underground Mine Regulations

American Civil Laws on Asbestos Litigation

There are only a few specific legislation pieces dedicated to asbestos litigation and civil action torts. The vast majority of court procedures for lawsuits come from extensive case law precedents set over years of trial outcomes and decisions in federal and state courts. These are detailed and complex legal guidelines only thoroughly understood by attorneys experienced in litigating asbestos-related cases.

Congress has struggled with asbestos legislation for nearly fifty years and has yet to reach a workable framework for dealing with asbestos litigation. So much is at stake with the massive amount of asbestos existing in American society and the huge amount of claims that continue growing.

These are the significant civil laws pertaining to asbestos compensation:

  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act: The CERCLA is a federal superfund set up to help abandoned hazardous waste sites like asbestos mines.
  • Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1994: Reforms to Chapter 11 of the federal Bankruptcy Act allowed litigated asbestos companies to establish trust funds rather than being held financially liable for individual lawsuits.
  • Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2006: The FAIR act attempted to streamline asbestos claims in civil courts but is widely criticized as being unfair to both defendants and plaintiffs.
  • Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act: This 2015 law attempted to sort out unfairness in the FAIR act but is even more widely criticized for protecting defendants and limiting plaintiff claims.

Individual State Legislations on Asbestos Use

Many states have individual acts, regulations and civil court rulings concerning how asbestos law is practiced. This is complicated. It requires extensive legal experience and knowledge to litigate asbestos-related cases in all American courts. That includes filing lawsuits, negotiating settlements, accessing trust funds and knowing which agencies compensate asbestos disease victims.

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Sources
  1. United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Asbestos Laws & Regulations”, Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/asbestos/asbestos-laws-and-regulations Accessed on December 30, 2017
  2. Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center, “Asbestos Legislation”, Retrieved from https://www.maacenter.org/asbestos/legislation/ Accessed on December 30, 2017
  3. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), “Federal OSHA and EPA Asbestos Laws”, Retrieved from https://www.afscme.org/news/publications/workplace-health-and-safety/fact-sheets/federal-osha-and-epa-asbestos-laws Accessed on December 30, 2017

Last modified: February 19, 2018