While asbestos is not completely banned in the United States, there are nonetheless a number of asbestos regulations and laws, at both the federal and state levels, that determine how companies, agencies, and even individuals can manufacture, use, and dispose of asbestos. Given the dangerous nature of this natural substance, such laws and regulations are designed to protect everyone from the potentially deadly effects of asbestos exposure. In addition to enacted laws, new asbestos legislation is frequently proposed in Congress and state legislatures.
This page offers an overview of asbestos laws, regulations, and proposed legislation. Since laws and regulations can change from time to time, it is always best to talk with a knowledgeable and experienced asbestos attorney to understand the current impact of asbestos legal rules.
Originally signed into law by President Obama in 2011, the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act created a program to help first responders of the World Trade Center attacks by providing compensation for health conditions developed as part of their service. Unfortunately, the original act covered 9/11 rescuers for only five years.
In 2015, when the original compensation act was set to expire, Congress took up the James Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Reauthorization Act. Passed as part of the 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act (also known as the “omnibus bill”), the Zadroga Reauthorization Act provided additional funding for the World Trade Center Health Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which makes money available to 9/11 responders and survivors to help treat 50 different types of cancer, including mesothelioma, as well as other conditions.
The TSCA was first passed back in 1976 to provide regulation over how everyday chemicals are developed, used, and disposed of, including dangerous substances like asbestos. However, since it became law, the TSCA has been criticized by a number of individuals and groups because it doesn’t provide adequate authority to regulatory agencies to enforce its provisions.
Recent calls for TSCA reform focused on a number of areas where the TSCA could be improved, including:
In June 2015, the TSCA Modernization Act passed the House to address a number of these issues. A different bill, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, has been making its way through the Senate. Although these bills address TSCA deficiencies in different ways, public interest groups, including the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), are hopeful that the differences will be worked out, and the new combined bill will improve the EPA’s ability to address toxic materials such as asbestos.
In 1955, the U.S. Congress passed the Air Pollution Control Act, which was the first attempt by the federal government to research air pollution. Based on some of that research, the Clean Air Act was then passed in 1963 in an effort to control the amount of air pollution throughout the country. Subsequently, the act has been amended a number of times, including in 1970, 1977, and 1990.
When the EPA was created in 1970, the provisions of the Clean Air Act were placed within its sphere of regulatory action. Today, the EPA is responsible for protecting and improving air quality across the nation. In addition to setting standards related to air quality for things like emissions, the agency also provides standards for air pollutants. This includes asbestos, which is a friable mineral whose particles can easily become airborne.
The Clean Air Act includes asbestos in its list of hazardous air pollutants under §7412(b)(1).
Similar to the Clean Air Act, the SDWA is a piece of legislation that requires the EPA to set standards around the quality of public drinking water. Signed into law in 1976, the SDWA was part of an effort to bring public health regulations into the modern era. Before the SDWA and the establishment of the EPA in 1970, the regulation of drinking water had been managed by the U.S. Public Health Service, whose standards were advisory rather than compulsory.
As part of the SDWA’s provisions, the EPA was required to set standards for levels of inorganic materials in drinking water, including asbestos. Amended in 1986 and 1996, the SDWA is still the major piece of legislation that oversees drinking water quality at the federal, state, and municipal levels.
The CERCLA is the piece of legislation that defines perhaps one of the most well-known projects the EPA oversees: Superfund. First passed in 1980, CERCLA allows the federal government to require the cleanup of sites that have been contaminated by hazardous waste or dangerous materials. This includes dangerous materials such as asbestos.
Some of the famous asbestos Superfund sites include:
The AHERA primarily accomplished two things. Foremost, it created new regulations that required local educational administrations to inspect school buildings for any materials that might contain asbestos, as well as to create plans that would help prevent or decrease asbestos hazards in school buildings. Secondly, the act instructed the EPA to develop standards for states to use when accrediting asbestos inspectors.
Under AHERA, administrators are still required to inspect schools and use accredited specialists when renovating, expanding, or demolishing school buildings.
In 1988, Congress passed the AIA, which required manufacturers to provide information about any construction materials containing asbestos. This included products such as surfacing materials (e.g., material sprayed onto a building), insulation, or other related building materials.
While this piece of legislation only required reporting, it shifted the balance of power by making information about asbestos containing materials public information. Companies could no longer legally hide or obfuscate the presence of asbestos in their products. As part of their reporting, companies were required to include a set of identifying characteristics about the asbestos materials they produced.
The original Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act was signed into law by President Reagan in 1984. It granted $600 million to help schools comply with asbestos regulations established over the previous decade, including the AHERA (described above). It also provided a leniency program that allowed schools to report asbestos problems to the EPA without being penalized for failing to comply previously.
However, by the end of the decade, funding for the program had run out. At that time, the EPA estimated that it would cost $3 billion for schools to comply with the AHERA, so in 1990, Congress passed the ASHARA to update the original Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act by providing additional funding and guidelines around how to apply for and administer those funds.
The FHSA specifically bans products containing asbestos in two different places.
Sections 1304 and 1305 ban the use of asbestos in “artificial ashes and embers” used in fireplaces.
Section 1500.17(a)(7) of the FHSA bans the creation of general-use garments that contain asbestos. While this prevents asbestos from being incorporated into clothes meant for everyday wear, this regulation still allows some special-use types of protective gear.
The passed legislation discussed above provides the primary federal rules governing the use, disposal, and abatement of asbestos. However, in many cases, federal agencies are tasked with developing and overseeing additional regulations and standards to implement the laws as they are passed. Directly authorized by particular pieces of legislation, these rules and regulations generally have the full weight of the law, though they are frequently challenged by asbestos companies.
Throughout asbestos's history, the EPA has had a hand in helping to prevent and diminish the harmful effects of this naturally-occurring mineral, as well as other hazardous materials.
From its inception in 1970, the EPA has been aware of the dangers asbestos poses to the public. Early EPA warnings and regulations started almost immediately, and the passage of laws such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other environmentally focused legislation helped to give the EPA the authority it needed to regulate how asbestos is mined, manufactured, and used in products.
In 1989, after nearly two decades of fighting against asbestos use, the EPA ruled that nearly all asbestos products would be banned. However, after an intense court battle, that ruling was eventually overruled by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1991.
Today, the bulk of the EPA’s authority with respect to asbestos falls under two federal laws: the Clean Air Act and the TSCA (both described above). However, it has also issued some of its own familiar rulings that companies, organizations, and agencies must comply with.
The EPA isn’t the only agency which regulates asbestos use. In fact, OSHA was one of the first federal agencies to create rules and restrictions around the use of asbestos in the workplace. Through its authority under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, OSHA has developed a robust set of regulations to guide companies on how to protect their workers who may use or manufacture asbestos products on a regular basis.
One of the most important ways that OSHA regulated asbestos jobsite use was by setting standards on levels of asbestos fiber in the air. Also, employers are required to demarcate and control access to areas where asbestos is present, and provide working respirators to employees who work in such areas.
Similar to OSHA, the MSHA implements regulations and sets standards to help keep miners and those who work at mining sites safe from the dangers of asbestos, as well as other dangerous substances. As with other companies that use or manufacture asbestos products, mining organizations are required to monitor asbestos levels, limit miners’ exposure to asbestos, and provide respirators to employees who work in asbestos-infested areas.
The CPSC is responsible for overseeing the use of asbestos in commercial products. In particular, the CPSC uses authority from the Consumer Product Safety Act to institute bans and issue recalls on products that are deemed to have a substantial or unreasonable risk of injury or death to the general public.
The main asbestos products that the CPSC has banned are patching compounds, textured paint, and artificial fireplace ash, all of which can result in free-form asbestos becoming airborne. The CPSC has oversight for things like toys and other products, and is the primary agency for issuing recalls on such products, such as in 2015 when asbestos was found in crayons and toy forensic kits.
Existing legislation around asbestos is well established. However, some groups continue to push for additional laws to strengthen bans on asbestos, while the asbestos industry is continually trying to reduce the number of rules and regulations against asbestos. As of 2015, there are two major pieces of legislation being considered by federal lawmakers that could drastically impact the future of asbestos law.
Supported by the asbestos lobby, the FACT Act claims to be an attempt to expose fraud by victims of asbestos exposure. Despite the fact that, for decades, asbestos companies were held virtually blameless for exposing military service members, employees, customers, and others to the deadly effects of asbestos, they now seem concerned with implementing “fairness” and “transparency” to the asbestos litigation process.
In reality, the FACT Act denies justice to victims of asbestos exposure who develop terminal diseases such as mesothelioma. If implemented, the act would require the details of settlements between asbestos victims and asbestos companies to be reported. This would include providing many details about asbestos victims in a publicly readable report, including extremely personal information such as medical records and partial Social Security numbers.
Another piece of legislation is the READ Act, which aims to update the AIA (described above) to bring awareness of asbestos-containing products into the new millennium. Specifically, the READ Act would create a new, publicly accessible database of products that contain asbestos. This database would be searchable through a website interface and would include detailed information about the asbestos-containing products, including model information, manufacturer information, and other relevant details.
This piece of proposed legislation has been endorsed by the leaders of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and the Environmental Working Group.
Federal laws and regulations are not the only pieces of legislation that govern the manufacture, use, and distribution of asbestos, or the ability of victims to file claims against asbestos companies and trust funds. For example, one of the most important aspects of state asbestos laws is statutes of limitations, which vary by state.
Individual states also have their own rules related to asbestos, which while informed by federal laws, can sometimes differ in important ways.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) oversees the various asbestos laws and regulations in Arizona. In addition ADEQ monitors the EPA’s NESHAP standards, with which companies in Arizona must comply when renovating or demolishing buildings.
Although Arizona does not have any additional statewide laws regulating asbestos, several Arizona counties have further requirements beyond the NESHAP standards. In particular, Maricopa County, Pima County, and Pinal County all have additional asbestos legislation that companies and individuals must adhere to.
California has a significant number of regulations related to asbestos overseen by multiple state agencies, including the Department of Public Health, the Department of Industrial Relations, and the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA). About two-thirds of California’s 58 counties are segmented into 35 Air Districts, managed by the Air Resources Board (ARB), and each district has its own rules regulating air quality, including rules related to asbestos; counties outside of these districts must report renovations and demolitions directly to the ARB.
Recently, a proposed piece of legislation was introduced into the California State Assembly that would require mesothelioma victims who bring lawsuits to disclose bankruptcy and other financial information. However, the Asbestos Tort Claim Trust Transparency Act bill did not make it out of committee, and eventually the legislation died.
One of the primary asbestos laws in Florida is the Asbestos and Silica Compensation Fairness Act (ASCFA), which was passed in 2005 in an attempt to reduce the amount of asbestos litigation filed in Florida. The act establishes rules around eligibility, liability limits, and sets a statute of limitations, among other things.
In addition, Florida has adopted the EPA’s NESHAP guidelines through its own Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
In Massachusetts, the Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) oversees the EPA’s NESHAP program and administers additional rules that regulate the manufacture, use, and distribution of asbestos in the state. For example, the Massachusetts Air Pollution Regulation, amended in 2014, has various regulations for non-traditional abatement of asbestos, waste shipment procedures, and various recordkeeping requirements.
New York has a number of different state agencies which regulate asbestos, including the Department of Health, Department of Labor, and the Department of Environmental Conservation. Between these agencies, activities such as worker safety, abatement, renovation, and transfer of waste materials consisting of or containing asbestos are all heavily monitored.
In addition, as the largest city in the U.S., New York City has its own asbestos control program through the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. Building owners and contractors in New York City must adhere to both city and state regulations when renovating or demolishing buildings and structures.
In North Carolina, the primary program for managing asbestos abatement is the Asbestos Hazard Management Program (AHMP), which includes regulations for managing asbestos in school buildings in accordance with AHERA (described above). As with other states, North Carolina has implemented the EPA’s NESHAP standards.
In addition to statewide asbestos legislation, three North Carolina counties also have local ordinances for managing asbestos: Buncombe County, Forsyth County, and Mecklenburg County.
Pennsylvania asbestos laws are enforced by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which along with other states has adopted the EPA’s NESHAP standards. Regulations also require asbestos inspectors and contractors to receive certification before removing, collecting, transporting, or disposing of asbestos-containing materials.
Additional regulations apply to certain areas of Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia and Allegheny Counties.
The EPA’s NESHAP guidelines require states to establish a procedure for notices related to renovation and demolition of certain buildings, structures, and institutions. Therefore, in some sense every state has its own regulations for asbestos. However, while some states go above and beyond the EPA’s guidelines, there are some that do little more than adopt the NESHAP standards.
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