Is Asbestos Banned in the United States?

Asbestos is not fully banned in the United States. In March 2024, the Biden administration finalized a ban on chrysotile asbestos. But companies are allowed a phase-out period of up to 12 years to continue using the material for certain manufacturing processes.

Chrysotile asbestos is mostly imported into the U.S. for use in the chlor-alkali industry. The new ban doesn’t apply to all types of asbestos.

Nearly 114 metric tons of asbestos were imported in the first three months of 2022, according to the United States International Trade Commission. This exceeds the 100 metric tons imported in all of 2021. Although imports continue, asbestos has not been mined in the U.S. since 2002.

OSHA defines asbestos-containing materials as any material that contains more than 1% asbestos. This means any material can be labeled asbestos-free if asbestos accounts for less than 1% of the product.

We know for certain that all forms of asbestos can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. As early as the 1960s, Dr. Irving J. Selikoff conclusively linked asbestos to certain diseases, including mesothelioma and lung cancer, providing the evidence needed to counteract the substantial influence of the asbestos industry.

US Legislation Regulating Asbestos

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. government implemented legislation regulating the use of asbestos. Asbestos use dwindled in most industries by the late 1970s.

Limits on asbestos and other toxic pollutants were enacted following the passage of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. Other factors, such as demands by organized labor and trade groups for safer work environments, also contributed to the steep decline in asbestos use as manufacturers sought other alternatives.

Legislation That Regulates Asbestos
  • Clean Air Act of 1970: Classified asbestos as a hazardous air pollutant and gave the EPA the power to regulate the use and disposal of asbestos. Amendments to this act banned friable asbestos pipe and block insulation on facility components in 1975. Spray-applied asbestos products for any application were banned in 1973.
  • Consumer Product Safety Act of 1972: Banned asbestos in artificial fireplace embers and wall patching compounds.
  • Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976: Provided the EPA with the authority to place restrictions on certain chemicals such as asbestos, radon and lead-based paint.
  • Medical Device Amendments of 1976: Allowed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of asbestos-containing filters in pharmaceutical manufacturing, processing and packaging.
  • Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986: Required the EPA to establish standards for inspecting and removing asbestos in schools.
  • Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act: The Lautenberg Act amended the Toxic Substances Control Act, which allowed the EPA to implement the 2024 chrysotile ban.

Banned asbestos products in the U.S. include spray-applied asbestos, asbestos wall patching compound, asbestos artificial embers, asbestos filters in pharmaceuticals, and the six products included in the partial 1989 ban. Friable asbestos pipe and block insulation are banned only on facility components.

First Attempt to Ban Asbestos Overturned

In July 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule, which would have imposed a full ban on the manufacturing, importation, processing and sale of asbestos-containing products. The ABPR ignited a fierce counterattack from the asbestos industry.

two johns-manville factory workers handling friable asbestos
Johns Manville workers handling asbestos.

Asbestos product manufacturers filed a lawsuit against the EPA and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the ban in October 1991. The court said the agency failed to demonstrate that a ban was the “least burdensome alternative” to regulating asbestos. Guided by the George H.W. Bush Administration, the agency didn’t appeal the ruling.

The EPA received clarification from the court that the ban could apply to asbestos products that were not being manufactured, processed or imported on July 12, 1989. It was determined that six categories of asbestos-containing products fit that classification.

Asbestos Products Banned by 1989 Rule
  • Flooring felt
  • Rollboard
  • Commercial paper
  • Corrugated paper
  • Specialty paper
  • New uses of asbestos

The ABPR followed an announcement in 1980 from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that “All levels of asbestos exposure studied to date have demonstrated asbestos-related disease … there is no level of exposure below which clinical effects do not occur.”

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Other Attempts to Ban Asbestos in the US

Since the overturning of the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule, lawmakers have made several other attempts to ban asbestos. In the past, Lobbyists for the chemical production and construction industries have also worked to block the passage of these acts.

Acts That Attempted to Ban Asbestos
  • Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act: First introduced in 2019, the act aimed to prohibit the manufacturing, processing and distribution of asbestos in addition to addressing legacy asbestos. In October 2020, the bill stalled in Congress and never passed. Republican support had waned over a change to the bill related to asbestos-contaminated talc litigation.
  • Bruce Vento Ban Asbestos and Prevent Mesothelioma Act: This act aimed to ban more types of asbestos products, but it would have allowed asbestos in the production of chlorine and lye. It would have revised the definition of asbestos to include winchite, richterite and other asbestiform amphibole minerals. These types of asbestos have sicked people in Libby, Montana.
  • Ban Asbestos in America Act: The Ban Asbestos in America Act aimed to totally ban asbestos in the U.S. It covered all known types of asbestos and three other durable fibers with a similar structure to asbestos. In 2007, the bill passed the U.S. Senate but died in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The future of a comprehensive ban on all types of asbestos remains unclear. In part 1 of the EPA’s risk evaluation for asbestos, the agency found unreasonable risks to human health for ongoing uses of chrysotile asbestos, which led to the 2024 chrysotile ban. 

The agency released a draft of part 2 of the evaluation, which covers legacy asbestos and the other types of the mineral, in April 2024. It found unreasonable risks for exposure to legacy asbestos and is in the process of accepting public feedback to develop actions to protect the public. Public health advocates continue to advocate for a full ban on all types of asbestos to avoid loopholes that could lead to exposure.

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World Powers Act Against Asbestos

Anti-asbestos advocate Laurie Kazan-Allen, who is based in the U.K., as well as several occupational health specialists and other advocates around the world, founded the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat in 1999. The secretariat remains a leading voice in the fight to ban asbestos worldwide.

It would be great if every country banned asbestos. But the full extent of the success in outlawing asbestos can be seen not only by the number of ban countries, but by the countries which choose not to use asbestos.

In 1999 and 2010, the secretariat called for an international ban on all types of asbestos. While an international ban would require a lot of cooperation between countries with opposing interests, the effort would put an end to the legacy of asbestos-related disease.

Notable Worldwide Asbestos Bans

In 1983, Iceland was the first country to ban all types of asbestos. Other countries followed suit, including Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Austria and Finland, in the 1980s and 1990s. These initial bans laid the groundwork for further global efforts to ban asbestos.

Asbestos Bans Across the World
  • 2021: A total of 17 states in Brazil banned asbestos on June 1. The country’s Supreme Federal Court held a split decision on an asbestos ban in 2017, allowing the state of Sao Paulo to enact a ban but falling short of a nationwide ban.
  • 2018: Canada passes its Prohibition of Asbestos and Products Containing Asbestos Regulations. Certain industries are allowed to temporarily continue to use asbestos products, but only in cases where no competitive substitute yet exists.
  • 2010: Turkey issues new regulations banning all uses of asbestos. Other Middle Eastern countries, including Syria, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, remain reliant on asbestos and are advocates for its use.
  • 2006: The United Kingdom introduces the Control of Asbestos Regulations Act, combining two previous pieces of legislation to ban all forms of asbestos.
  • 2005: The European Union finalizes a ban, outlawing the import, export or manufacture of asbestos in all member countries.
  • 2003: Australia bans the use of chrysotile (white) asbestos, nearly 20 years after banning amosite (brown) asbestos. The country banned crocidolite — one of the most dangerous forms — in 1967.

Since 2005, the World Health Organization has fought for a worldwide ban to combat the growing number of mesothelioma cases and other asbestos-related diseases. In 2013, the WHO introduced a global action plan aiming to end asbestos use in the organization’s 190 nations and states by 2020. Unfortunately, it was never adopted.

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