Comedian Quincy Jones’s presentation at the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) 13th Annual International Asbestos Awareness and Prevention Conference was titled “Asbestos is Still Legal? You Must Be Joking…” It’s a theme that connected many of the stories mesothelioma warriors shared at the conference: Those diagnosed with mesothelioma did not realize asbestos was even still legal in the United States.
While asbestos is no longer mined in the United States, an estimated 360 tons was imported in 2015 to meet demand, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Though more than 55 countries around the world — including the European Union and Canada — have banned or are in the process of banning asbestos, the United States is not one of them. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named asbestos — a known human carcinogen — to its first list of 10 chemicals to evaluate for health risks and potentially be further regulated or banned, but many products, including clothing, cement pipe, gaskets, brake blocks, etc., still contain asbestos and are legal in the United States.
Mostly, asbestos is used in chlorine plants in the chloralkali industrial process to create the commonly used chemicals chlorine and sodium hydroxide. “It’s a lot of asbestos used in this industry,” environmental consultant Barry Castleman said to conference attendees. “It gets dumped at the end of the year and replaced by another 60,000 bags each year, and there are worker and environmental exposures throughout that time.”
The Environmental Protection Agency could take up to five years to evaluate a selected chemical, and as speakers at the conference made clear, that could be too late for many, as it only takes one exposure to contract an asbestos-related disease.