No, asbestos was never banned. Yes, it's still everywhere.
Asbestos material was briefly subjected to a "phaseout and ban" in 1989, but this was overturned in the courts within two years. All subsequent attempts to ban it have failed.
While the handling of asbestos containing material is highly regulated, the material itself is still legal and found in thousands of products.
The US imports huge amounts of asbestos containing material from foreign countries.
At MESS, we talk to hundreds of clients every year. From homeowners to home re-modelers, the most persistent myth we hear is that structures built after a certain year will not contain asbestos, because of a government ban. No one can tell us many details about this ban or when it happened.
Because it doesn't exist.
Asbestos was proven to cause cancer in the 1970s, which is when the federal government began to regulate it. The Clean Air Act of 1971 included language to address asbestos fibers in the air. OSHA began to outline safety standards for workers that may be exposed to asbestos. In 1979, EPA issued a notice of intent to regulate asbestos under the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Alarmed employee associations called for a full ban on asbestos products, which prompted the EPA to conduct a ten year study on asbestos. This study was not completed until 1989, and resulted in the EPA ordering a phaseout and ban of more than 90 percent of products containing asbestos.
Most people have a vague awareness of this EPA ban in 1989. What they're not aware of is the decision was overturned by the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 1991. Their reason? Alternative construction material was too costly.
This disastrous decision not only overturned EPA’s ban but also established a precedent that has made it almost impossible for the agency to ban any dangerous chemical. Even though new evidence of asbestos’ hazards continues to come to light, EPA’s hands have largely remained tied. Today, asbestos is banned only in less than a dozen types of products and for “new use” in products that did not historically contain asbestos.
At late as 2002 and again in 2007, legislation to ban asbestos material was either scaled back in Congress or failed completely.
Today, although more than 50 nations have banned asbestos, the U.S. still permits its citizens to be exposed to a substance known to cause illness and death in any amount. As multiple scientific and regulatory bodies assert, there is no safe level of asbestos.
Meanwhile, the use of asbestos in China, India, Russia, Brazil is expanding, all major exporters of building material to the United States.