10 Ways Asbestos Laws Protect Individuals
Asbestos exposure is a serious health hazard that affects thousands of people each year. In the United States alone, over 40,000 deaths annually can be attributed to asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma and asbestosis.
To protect the public from the dangers of asbestos, federal and state governments have enacted various asbestos laws and regulations over the past 50 years. These laws aim to limit exposure, hold companies accountable, and provide compensation for those harmed by asbestos. For example, in California alone, thousands of asbestos exposure cases are filed each year.
This article will examine ten key ways that asbestos laws and regulations help safeguard individuals.
1. Banning Asbestos Products
One of the most direct ways asbestos laws protect people is by banning the use of asbestos in certain products. In 1989, the EPA issued a partial ban on asbestos under the Toxic Substances Control Act. This prohibited using asbestos in various building materials like floor tile and spray-on coatings.
While the ban was overturned in court, it succeeded in curtailing asbestos use. Currently, about 40 categories of asbestos-containing products are banned. Banning toxic products prevents hazardous exposures from occurring in the first place.
2. Holding Companies Accountable in Court
Asbestos laws also enable victims to hold corporations accountable for wrongful exposure in court. This often takes the form of asbestos lawsuits, which have become a significant area of legal practice given the high number of individuals affected.
Three key legal developments in the 1970s established vital precedents: Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Products Corp. (1973) set strict liability for asbestos makers, Beshada v. Johns-Manville Products Corp. (1982) established the duty to warn about asbestos risks, and Wood v. Johns-Manville Corp. (1985) set joint liability for asbestos defendants. These cases and others established legal liability principles allowing plaintiffs to obtain justice. Being able to sue for compensation deters corporate misconduct.
3. Regulating Workplace Exposure
Asbestos laws also reduce exposure by regulating how the mineral can be handled in occupational settings. Groups like the EPA and OSHA have established strict exposure limits for asbestos in the workplace.
While the EPA’s National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants sets rules for asbestos emissions during building demolitions and renovations, OSHA mandates exposure monitoring, protective equipment, and medical surveillance for workers who may encounter asbestos on the job. These workplace regulations aim to prevent toxic exposures and ensure a safe working environment.
4. Requiring Asbestos Warnings
Another important protection is the requirement for companies to warn about asbestos hazards. The Asbestos Information Act of 1988 stipulated that manufacturers must disclose the presence of asbestos in their products. This empowers consumers to avoid dangerous exposures from asbestos-containing items.
Warning requirements also apply in occupational settings under OSHA standards. For example, employers must demarcate regulated areas where asbestos is handled and communicate hazards through warning signs, labels, and training. Warnings and disclosure rules are critical to informing people about asbestos risks.
5. Funding Asbestos Abatement in Schools
Protecting schoolchildren from asbestos is a major priority addressed in federal laws. The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) established abatement requirements and funding to remove asbestos from school buildings. From 1987 to 2019, over $3.5 billion was appropriated for asbestos abatement in schools.
The Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act also extended funding through FY 1994. These laws aim to create a safe learning environment by removing asbestos-containing materials like old insulation, ceiling tiles, and floor adhesives. Funding asbestos abatement protects vulnerable student populations.
6. Establishing Medical Monitoring Programs
Certain federal laws provide ongoing health monitoring for those exposed to asbestos on the job. For example, the Zadroga Act established the World Trade Center Health Program, which offers free medical monitoring to 9/11 first responders. Participants receive cancer screenings and other services related to asbestos exposure from the WTC collapse.
The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act also provides medical monitoring for DOE contract workers exposed to asbestos and other toxic substances. These programs allow for early detection and treatment of asbestos-related diseases.
7. Facilitating Compensation for Victims
Asbestos laws also establish avenues for obtaining compensation for victims and their families. The aforementioned Zadroga Act reactivated the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which has awarded over $8 billion to date. Other examples include state asbestos bankruptcy trust funds and the Federal Asbestos Injury Compensation Act of 2005, which would have established a national trust fund (never enacted).
Compensation programs acknowledge the immense suffering caused by asbestos companies and help victims afford medical bills and other expenses.
8. Empowering EPA to Regulate Asbestos
Critical asbestos protections stem from the EPA’s regulatory authority. Under laws like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Toxic Substances Control Act, the EPA can restrict asbestos mining, manufacturing, and use to protect human health. This includes setting emission standards, requiring companies to report asbestos use, banning certain asbestos products, and more. However, some feel the EPA should exercise this regulatory power even more stringently. Still, the public health safeguards implemented by the EPA under federal environmental laws are indispensable in controlling asbestos hazards.
9. Setting Standards for Asbestos Professionals
Under the Asbestos Model Accreditation Plan, many states implement certification and licensing rules for asbestos abatement professionals. This helps ensure proper asbestos removal and disposal. For instance, in California, contractors must complete EPA-approved courses and pass an exam to receive certification.
Licensing prevents unqualified individuals from engaging in asbestos work and reduces public exposure. Therefore, proper training and certification of asbestos professionals is critical for safely handling the toxic mineral.
10. Providing Public Awareness About Asbestos
Finally, government agencies work to promote public awareness about asbestos hazards and prevent exposures. For instance, the EPA designates the first week of April as National Asbestos Awareness Week.
OSHA also runs an Asbestos Awareness Training Program educating high-risk workers. And the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has conducted critical research on asbestos health effects.
Federal bodies help inform the public about asbestos risks by disseminating information and resources. Greater awareness empowers people to avoid dangerous exposures.
In summary, asbestos laws and regulations at the federal, state, and local levels provide critical safeguards against hazardous exposures. Key protections include banning toxic products, monitoring workplaces, funding abatement, establishing compensation programs, empowering regulatory agencies, enabling legal liability, training qualified professionals, and raising public awareness.
While more progress is still needed, existing asbestos laws help reduce the incidence of asbestos-related diseases and provide recourse for victims. Complying with and strengthening asbestos laws ensures a safer, healthier environment for all. However, the most important thing is staying vigilant about avoiding asbestos, getting medical help if exposed, and consulting a specialist if any adverse health effects emerge.