Long After Asbestos Dangers Known, Ban Still Proves Elusive

Long After Asbestos Dangers Known, Ban Still Proves Elusive


01/12/2011 // Chicago, IL, USA // Mesothelioma Lawyers – Cooney & Conway // Cooney & Conway

Mesothelioma—an aggressive, deadly cancer—is known all too well today, but the asbestos that causes it has been a source of concern since Roman times. Even then, a disturbing trend emerged: Slaves who worked in the quarries and inhaled asbestos fibers died far younger than those who didn’t.

But centuries ago, the material—known since then for its heat- and fire-resistant properties—was considered almost magical, and the worries were shrugged off or ignored. Asbestos fibers continued to be inhaled, and people continued to get sick and die early.

Unfortunately, not much has changed in 2,000 years. Asbestos can still be found in many common products like insulation, ceilings, flooring, pipes and automobile parts. Across the nation, thousands of structures—from factories to homes and even schools—contain some quantity of asbestos.

Meanwhile, mesothelioma—the incurable cancer that strikes the protective lining of many of the body’s organs—continues to sicken and kill its victims. And new asbestos lawsuits are filed at a rapid pace, with mesothelioma lawyers often obtaining large jury awards and settlements for clients whose lives were devastated by asbestos exposure.

Even with all of this, and the public and the government increasingly aware of the dangers of asbestos, there is still no outright ban on the material. State and federal laws may regulate the removal and disposal of asbestos—most dangerous when airborne and asbestos fibers can be easily inhaled. But there is still no complete prohibition.

In the late 1980s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—aware of the increasing number of mesothelioma diagnoses, the growing volume of asbestos lawsuits, and the conclusive proof that asbestos is dangerous—did ban the material. But the ban proved short-lived.

The Canadian asbestos industry—then and now, one of the world’s largest producers of asbestos—sued to overturn the ban. Shortly thereafter, a U.S. federal court did just that, citing technical problems with the EPA’s order. Asbestos continued to be used in all kinds of parts and products; it continued to be found in buildings. And asbestos-related cases of mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis (a severe respiratory disease triggered by asbestos exposure) continued to be diagnosed.

The efforts to ban asbestos haven’t stopped, and more recent attempts have not fared much better than those in the 1980s. In 2007, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s efforts to pass a ban on asbestos appeared, at first glance, to have worked, and, to public health advocates, seemed cause for celebration.

But a close reading of the law revealed some troubling changes to the bill Murray had been advocating. While the original language banned all asbestos-containing products, the final legislation allowed products to contain asbestos if they were just 1 percent asbestos by weight.

“It sounds so simple, even insignificant, but 1 percent means a 100 pound bag of play sand could contain 1 pound of asbestos fibers,” says Linda Reinstein, a mesothelioma widow and co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. “It was tragic.”

The result: a so-called ban that still permits products containing dangerous amounts of asbestos to be sold in the United States. And fuels continued fears of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related disease.

Perhaps, mesothelioma lawyers and public health advocates say, we’ll fare better in another 2,000 years.

*This news story was brought to you by the mesothelioma lawyers at Cooney & Conway. For more than half a century, we’ve brought relief—and financial recovery—to those injured by the negligence or harmful actions of others. In the process, we’ve litigated some of the country’s most significant asbestos lawsuits, helping victims of mesothelioma, lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases get answers and justice.

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