Asbestos Legislation History
Asbestos use is recorded far back in history. The Romans, Egyptians, and Greeks realized asbestos was fireproof and easy to weave into products. They knew asbestos helped insulate, strengthen and lighten materials as well as prevent corrosion.
These ancients also understood that asbestos was hazardous to human health. Forced workers in asbestos mines had a high rate of respiratory problems, and it was called the disease of slaves.
Once the Industrial Revolution occurred, asbestos became high in demand. Steam power changed how America operated, and the high heat of engines, boilers, and furnaces needed protection found in asbestos.
Asbestos was the perfect insulation and fire protection material. It was also non-corrosive and chemically stable to work with.
Soon, asbestos made its way into building products used in every American industrial, commercial, and residential structure.
Not everyone believed asbestos was safe. As early as the 1930s, health authorities were warning Americans that asbestos was a carcinogen and exposure would cause diseases such as mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
That message wasn’t widely heard. Most regulators and asbestos manufacturers ignored the warnings, downplayed them and hid the information from the public, some even conspired to put profits above safety.
The first American legislation identifying asbestos fibers as being toxic happened in the 1950s. Air pollution was becoming a big problem in crowded U.S. cities, and federal legislators realized something had to be done.
The federal government passed the Air Pollution Control Act in 1955, which identified asbestos, among many other things, as being a toxic airborne substance.
By the late 1970s, it was clear how dangerous asbestos was. Doctors diagnosed thousands of mesothelioma and asbestosis cases. Asbestos was the common denominator and lawsuits against negligent asbestos companies flooded the courts.
Asbestos claims were different from other personal injury torts. The long latency period of 20 to 50 years from exposure to disease symptoms required special attention.
For the next four decades, American legislators struggled with how to control asbestos products from killing people. They attempted to ban asbestos from every workplace and to streamline asbestos-related lawsuits in the civil courts.
There has been some degree of success. However, the asbestos health problem was enormous and is still here today.