Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that occurs as bundles of fibers. These fibers are mined for a variety of applications; studies estimate there are approximately 3,000 types of products that include asbestos (MAACenter).
Scanning electron micrograph of asbestiform amphibole from a former vermiculite mining site near Libby, Montana. Source: U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8, Denver, Colorado (http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/asbestos/more_about_asbestos/asbestos_photos/)
I have known for many years that asbestos is dangerous and that care had to be taken when demolishing older structures. I thought, as I’m sure many of you do, that asbestos had been outright banned due to the dangers. This turns out to only be partially true (statement that follows is from MAACenter.)
Contrary to what many people believe, asbestos is not and has never been banned in the United States. In 1976, Congress passed a law to regulate toxic substances (known as the Toxic Substances Control Act) but a total ban was not suggested. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized regulations to ban asbestos under the aforementioned act, but two years later, a New Orleans circuit court of appeal overturned the regulation. The result was that new uses of the dangerous mineral were banned but old ones remained.
Many other industrialized nations have banned asbestos including the European Union and a handful of other countries, such as Chile, Croatia, Australia, Argentina, and Saudi Arabia. Several countries, especially those who continue to make money from the mining of asbestos, consistently fight against asbestos bans.
A few current U.S. senators, with the assistance of asbestos watchdog groups, hope to encourage the government to reconsider a ban on all asbestos products. A new bill, called the "Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007" (S.742), was introduced by Senator Patty Murray on March 1, 2007.
You can find a list of products that could potentially contain or have previously contained asbestos here. I have gone through and have listed the most surprising:
- Baby Powder (asbestos like fibers are found naturally along with Talc)
- Cork Board
- Duct Tape
- Vinyl Wallpaper
- Hair Dryers
If you are interested in learning more about asbestos or mesothelioma I would suggest you check out the following resources in addition to the MAACenter:
The American Cancer Society
Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry
Nation Institutes of Health MedlinePlus
EPA FAQ about Asbestos in Schools