More than 60 countries worldwide have banned the importation, sale, and use of asbestos. The United States is not one of them. We are the wealthiest country on the planet by gross domestic product, but enough people in positions of power claim we can’t afford the costs of stopping asbestos use. While a handful of corporations benefit from exposing workers to this deadly substance, workers bear the costs.
While dozens of countries entirely banned asbestos, the US has not. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried to do so in 1989, but the effort was overturned two years later in federal court.
Money, Political Power, and Asbestos
US and state chemical regulations emphasize keeping businesses humming with little interference, impacting the health of ordinary Americans who carry the burden. There are chemical plants in the country still using asbestos, so fibers fly across workplaces about a hundred years after evidence of asbestos’ hazards started being documented.
Efforts by some Congressional members to outlaw this carcinogen have repeatedly failed. The main reason is opposition by the country’s chemical industry. It imports more than 200,000 pounds of asbestos annually to use in plants producing chlorine used to treat water.
The Chemical Industry Talks a Good Game, But Reality is Another Thing
The industry falsely claims workers are well protected by strict safety measures and strong workplace safety regulations, so there’s no need for a ban. ProPublica reports published in October documented that OxyChem routinely violated basic asbestos safety rules in its Niagara Falls, New York plant:
- Safety standards were routinely disregarded
- Workers allege asbestos splattered on the ceilings and walls, rolled across the floor like tumbleweeds, and stuck to workers’ clothes
- Windows and doors were open, so asbestos blew into the neighboring area
- OxyChem’s industrial hygiene monitoring showed workers repeatedly endured airborne asbestos in the workplace
The Niagara Falls plant closed last year, but eight other US plants still use asbestos to manufacture chlorine. Olin Corporation owns one of them, according to ProPublica.
‘…Chris Murphy, a former union president at Olin’s plant in Alabama, said the conditions there mirrored the ones described by the workers in Niagara Falls. He said he himself had seen asbestos caked on beams and cranes in recent years and been told to remove it with a putty knife. “There ain’t nothing to it,” he remembered his managers saying. “You’ll be all right. It ain’t that bad.” He wasn’t told to wear protective gear, he said, so he didn’t.’
The conditions were similar to those industrial workers may have endured in the 1930s.
Ending Asbestos Use, One Way or Another
Legislation, passed in 2016, is supposed to address the continuing issue of workplace asbestos exposure. Following the law, the EPA started re-evaluating the risks of using asbestos. In 2020, they determined chlorine workers faced an “unreasonable risk” to their health.
The EPA proposed an asbestos ban in April, and this administrative rule needs to be finalized, which could happen in November. The EPA will hear the chemical industry’s objections as part of the process. Attorneys general in twelve states back them, claiming an asbestos ban would put a “heavy and unreasonable burden” on the industry.
Chemical companies would rather endanger workers than modernize their facilities to produce chlorine without using asbestos. OxyChem has slowly upgraded some plants to a newer technology. It built an asbestos-free chlorine plant in 2014.
The CEO of Olin Corp., Scott Sutton, wrote a letter to the EPA in April stating the company would endorse a ban if companies have seven years to phase out asbestos use. The letter states workers would not have to apply asbestos to screening equipment in the last five years of the phase-out period, reducing exposure, and there would be no need for additional asbestos imports.
A proposed law to permanently ban the importation and use of asbestos in the US, the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act, is pending in Congress, according to ProPublica. The legislation is named for Alan Reinstein, who died from mesothelioma in 2006. Industry is resistant to this legislation and wants numerous limitations and exceptions to a total ban.
If You or a Loved One Is Injured by Asbestos, Compensation May Be Available.
Satterley & Kelley, PLLC, helps asbestos victims protect their right to compensation for their harm. If you have an asbestos-related disease or a family member died of one, call us at (855) 385-9532 to learn about your legal rights and how we can help.