Decades after Asbestos Dangers Known, Regulation Still Proves Challenging

05/28/2010 // Chicago, IL, USA //’ rel=’nofollow’>Cooney & Conway // Mesothelioma attorneys: Cooney & Conway

The dangers of asbestos are well known by now. Exposure to the material—widely used for decades in construction, particularly for insulation and ceilings—can result in lung cancer and other diseases, including asbestosis and mesothelioma, an almost always fatal cancer of the protective lining covering many of the body’s organs.

The diseases can manifest themselves years after asbestos exposure—mesothelioma typically isn’t diagnosed until decades after asbestos fibers were inhaled.

The legal consequences of asbestos exposure are also well known. Over the years, many mesothelioma lawsuits and other asbestos-related claims have ended in verdicts and settlements paying victims millions of dollars. Such recourses have forced manufacturers, property owners, and employers—who knew about asbestos risks, but did little or nothing to mitigate them—to take responsibility for their actions.

What is less known is how the law has treated asbestos itself. There is a widespread—and incorrect—belief that since the material is so clearly harmful, it has been banned.

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did propose a ban—one that would be implemented in three states over a six-year period—it was challenged by industry and ultimately invalidated by a federal appeals court. Regulatory schemes like the Clean Air Act put asbestos rules in place, but imposed no outright prohibition on the substance.

So asbestos—to the surprise of many—remains on the market, still used today in goods like some brake pads. It is also present in many buildings, which raises concerns about demolition and renovation work, because asbestos is most harmful when it is airborne. Disturbing the material can release dangerous asbestos fibers and particles into the atmosphere. Individuals can then breathe in asbestos, putting them at risk for mesothelioma and other diseases.

“Asbestos is a term we have gotten used to over time, and familiarity breeds a certain feeling that we don’t have to be as concerned,” says Robert Ford, manager of the Utah air quality division that oversees asbestos in that state. “We’ve become accustomed to it, so we don’t fear it as much.”

But of all the substances regulated under the Clean Air Act, says Ford, asbestos has been linked to the most deaths—a fact that has kept many mesothelioma lawyers busy, because victims seek answers and compensation.

With no outright ban, state regulators oversee and enforce rules pertaining to asbestos. But those rules can vary from state to state. Utah, for example, has a very strict standard that goes beyond what the federal government mandates. The state averages about 1,400 asbestos inspections each year.

Yet some have criticized Utah’s tough standard, questioning why the state exercises regulatory oversight on even small projects like remodeling a home. Others, meanwhile, complain that Utah doesn’t do enough when it comes to possible asbestos exposure. It’s a scenario that many other states are grappling with as well.

“Finding the right level of regulatory control is very challenging for a state agency,” says Ford.

As a result, Utah is surveying other states to see how it compares. The data the state collects will be passed on to lawmakers.

The real challenge, of course, will be to enforce whatever rules ultimately result. While asbestos regulations may vary, the consequences of asbestos exposure do not. For too many families, asbestos has meant disease and suffering—and a lawsuit instead of a cure.

This news story was brought to you by the asbestos and mesothelioma lawyers at Cooney & Conway. For over half a century we have found—and vindicated—those victims injured by the negligence and wrongful acts of others. We have prosecuted, won, and settled some of the country’s most significant asbestos lawsuits, bringing relief—and answers—to victims of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

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