Asbestos Ban History in the United States
Asbestos use goes back much further than when America was settled by Europeans. There’s no recorded history of America’s indigenous peoples using asbestos, but the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Scandinavians were well aware of asbestos. These early cultures used asbestos to make cooking pots, tablecloths, and even funeral shrouds. These ancients were also aware of asbestos health hazards, knowing it caused the “disease of slaves” who mined asbestos.
American asbestos consumption skyrocketed during the Industrial Revolution. With steam power being so popular, asbestos was the natural material for fireproofing and insulating newly-made boilers, furnaces, and engines. Soon, ACM products showed up in building materials and consumer household products. By World War II, over 3,000 ACM products were in American ships, planes, and vehicles. Asbestos was also in factories, hospitals, schools and homes across the nation.
In the 1930s, American health authorities became aware that asbestos was carcinogenic. Evidence that airborne asbestos fiber exposure caused lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis and numerous pleural disorders were known. However, asbestos production was big and profitable business. Many asbestos producers and product manufactures dismissed health warnings. Some companies hid the evidence and conspired to keep exposing innocent workers to their deadly products.
When the U.S. federal government formed the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1970s, they mandated the EPA to do something about the growing asbestos problem scaring Americans. The EPA’s first steps were to formally identify asbestos as a known toxic substance and then attempt to remove or ban ACM products as time progressed.
These are the initial legislative steps Congress took at the EPA’s recommendation.
- Clean Air Act: The Clean Air Act of 1970, and its amendments in 1977 and 1990, first identified all types of asbestos fibers to be toxic substances. The CAA allowed the EPA to set exposure tolerance limits for asbestos but didn’t allow certain products to be identified. The CAA also allowed for the Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants or what’s known as the NESHAP rules.
- Toxic Substances Control Act: This federal act of 1976 took asbestos control to another level. While no effort was yet made to ban asbestos products, the TSCA allowed the EPA to force asbestos producers and users to control packaging, handling, storing and disposing of ACM.