Asbestos Laws

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.

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What Is Asbestos Law?

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

The Complexity of Asbestos Law

Lawyers experienced with American asbestos law are intimately familiar with two distinct legal areas.

  1. One is the wide range of federal and individual state statutes and regulations that frame asbestos material production, distribution, and abatement.
  2. 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, and 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. Mesothelioma lawyers must know every detail of legal procedures 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 asbestos-containing products 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 was to human health.

This was well-known within asbestos industry boardrooms. However, many unscrupulous executives conspired to hide the fact of the dangers of their products.

Ultimately, this deadly secret backfired on hundreds of asbestos companies who now find themselves targets of litigation.

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.

Did You Know?

Asbestos exposure was called the disease of slaves because of lung damage to miners.

By the 1930s, medical professionals 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.

Evolution of Asbestos Litigation

The first legal asbestos act in America came in 1970 when the U.S. federal government formed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA listed asbestos as one of America’s most toxic substances and passed the Clean Air Act of 1970, which identified asbestos as an air pollutant.

Asbestos officially became a toxin. By this time, it was the most common dangerous product in existence.

Asbestos civil litigation started in the 1970s 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.

Regulatory laws formed to control 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 Regulations

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 legislators, asbestos is still present across the nation.

These are the significant asbestos laws and regulations:

  • Clean Air Act Amendments: The EPA’s primary mandate was controlling America’s air quality. They passed amendments to the Clean Air Act in 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 the 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 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 bans or restrictions on select asbestos-containing products
  • MSHA Surface and Underground Mine Regulations

Other agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues warnings about the use of asbestos, specifically when it is found in consumer products.

Did You Know?

In March 2019, the FDA alerted consumers that brands of Claire’s makeup contained asbestos.

These rules are highly important in keeping Americans safe, even though they do not completely ban asbestos. However, even these are subject to change.

For example, the New York Times reported that the EPA proposed new rules on asbestos use in early 2018. These changes were found in the Significant New Use Rule (SNUR).

While it sought to limit asbestos use, the EPA’s leaders wanted to change the way SNUR was worded. Their changes may have allowed asbestos companies to slip through the cracks.

This was met by controversy from the agency’s legal team and scientists. As a result, it wound up not going through.

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 mesothelioma lawsuits come from extensive case law precedents set over years of trial outcomes in federal and state courts.

These are complex legal guidelines only thoroughly understood by attorneys experienced in litigating asbestos-related cases.

Congress has struggled with asbestos legislation for nearly 50 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 was widely criticized as being unfair to both defendants and plaintiffs. It did not go into effect.
  • Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency Act: This 2015 law attempted to sort out the problems of the FAIR act. However, this act faced even more criticism for protecting defendants and limiting plaintiffs’ claims. A 2017 version of the act passed in the house but no action has been taken on it since.

Individual State Legislations on Asbestos Use

Many states have individual acts, regulations, and civil court rulings concerning how asbestos law is practiced. It’s complicated and 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.

If you’ve been exposed to asbestos and you have concerns about your legal rights, contact our Justice Support Team today.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Stephanie KiddWritten by:


Stephanie Kidd grew up in a family of civil servants, blue-collar workers, and medical caregivers. Upon graduating Summa Cum Laude from Stetson University, she began her career specializing in worker safety regulations and communications. Now, a proud member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Cancer Network, Stephanie serves as a voice for mesothelioma victims and their families.

View 6 Sources
  1. United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Asbestos Laws & Regulations”, Retrieved from Accessed on December 30, 2017
  2. Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center, “Asbestos Legislation”, Retrieved from Accessed on December 30, 2017
  3. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), “Federal OSHA and EPA Asbestos Laws”, Retrieved from Accessed on December 30, 2017
  4. Goodlatte, Bob, "H.R.985 - 115th Congress (2017-2018): Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2017", Retrieved from Accessed on April 08, 2019
  5. U.S. General Services Administration, "Asbestos; Significant New Use Rule", Retrieved from Accessed on April 08, 2019
  6. Friedman, Lisa, "E.P.A. Staff Objected to Agency’s New Rules on Asbestos Use, Internal Emails Show", Retrieved from Accessed on April 08, 2019
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