State and Federal Lawmakers Push to Ban Asbestos in 2019
Legislators in New Jersey have unanimously voted to ban asbestos. A bill that prohibits the sale and distribution of asbestos-containing products passed both the Senate and General Assembly on March 25, 2019, and is now awaiting the governor’s signature.
Once the law goes into effect, any individual caught selling, buying, or distributing products containing asbestos will face a $2,500 fine.
Addressing a “Significant” Setback
Lawmakers introduced the measure last fall as a direct response to the federal government’s attempt to deregulate the carcinogen. They were concerned about a policy change in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. In June 2018, the agency announced the “Significant New Use Rule,” or SNUR. The rule removed any “unnecessary regulation” surrounding asbestos and permitted its use in products on a case-by-case basis.
According to SNUR, the EPA will also no longer consider the toxin in its risk assessments, including any asbestos contamination found in soil, air or groundwater sources.
Asbestos: Still a Threat
Asbestos is a Group 1 carcinogen — or cancer-causing substance — and is still legal in the United States. Durable, strong, and fire-resistant, asbestos was once considered a “miracle substance.” It was used for decades to insulate factories, military vehicles, ships, and even homes.
But here’s the problem: the material breaks down into microscopic pieces, and when those little fibers are inhaled or ingested they can cause inflammation that leads to a rare and deadly cancer called mesothelioma.
The EPA started restricting asbestos use in specific products in the early 1970s. Several years later, in 1977, the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared it a cancer-causing substance. But although some applications have been restricted and overall asbestos use has declined, it has never been entirely banned in the U.S.
Asbestos is no longer mined here, but the U.S. still imports the raw material and uses it in certain products. For decades, it was used to insulate buildings, so in addition to exposing people to asbestos fibers at work or in their homes, it’s also possible for construction workers to breathe in tiny fibers during renovations or demolitions.
“Asbestos causes cancer,” said Raja Flores, MD, Chief Thoracic Surgeon at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “It isn’t safe at any level of exposure. As long as there’s asbestos, there will be mesothelioma.”
Taking Action on Asbestos at the Federal Level
Currently, asbestos is banned in more than 50 countries. Last year, a group of federal lawmakers introduced a bill that would add the United States to that list.
House Resolution (H.R. 5114), also known as the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act, was introduced in February 2018. It seeks to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act, which requires the EPA to “take action to eliminate human exposure to asbestos.” If the measure passes, it will prohibit importing, manufacturing, processing, and distributing asbestos and asbestos products. The goal: to drastically reduce and eventually eliminate human and environmental exposure to asbestos.
In addition, Attorneys General from 15 states are asking the EPA to draft a new policy to collect additional data from manufacturers who import the toxic mineral. Health advocates and policymakers say it’s important to know exactly how these asbestos products are being used to protect consumers from future asbestos exposure.
Learn more about the fight to ban asbestos in the United States.