Asbestos is the name given to a collection of naturally occurring minerals that have properties useful in a wide range of commercial and industrial applications. Among other things, asbestos is an effective fire retardant. The risks to human health posed by asbestos have been understood as far back as the early 1900s, and today we know that it can cause long-term problems, including cancer. In the 1970s authorities in the United States began a concerted effort to ban its use in certain products, especially drywall. In 1989 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned all new uses of asbestos, while allowing existing uses to continue, and adopted regulations governing the inspection of buildings for potential asbestos hazards.
In June 2018 the EPA announced a proposed a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) addressing asbestos use. The SNUR was proposed due to a regulatory gap in existing law, which leaves a range of potential asbestos uses unregulated. The SNUR makes clear that the uses it is aiming at were in use as late as 1991, but are no longer in use today. The explanation is that manufacturers have voluntarily avoided these unregulated uses in large part to avoid potential liability for incorporating a carcinogen into their products. The SNUR aimed to bring these out-of-use but unregulated applications for asbestos into a framework to give the EPA mechanisms to evaluate and regulate them. Among other things, the SNUR proposes to ban the use of asbestos in clothing and a range of construction products.
Critics of the SNUR have raised two chief concerns. The first is that the SNUR does not address all potential new, unregulated uses of asbestos, leaving in place significant regulatory gaps. The second concern is that the SNUR’s proposed examination procedure would stop the EPA from considering historical data when evaluating proposed new uses. This means that the deep scientific background in the risks posed by asbestos will not be included in future product evaluations. The new rule also narrows the definition of “asbestos” to potentially leave dangerous compounds beyond the reach of regulators.
How the proposed rules may affect public health remains to be seen. The fact that the SNUR addresses currently unregulated uses should give some comfort that manufacturers are already deterred from those uses by other legal standards, including state products liability laws. The risk of liability for widespread cancers and other diseases related to asbestos exposure serves as a powerful deterrent even without EPA action. Still, if new uses for asbestos are approved under the process proposed in the SNUR they could lead to a higher incidence of asbestos in our environment. It seems that ordinary people, especially those who work around old construction, will need to continue to be mindful of the potential risks of asbestos exposure.
Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez is a Las Vegas personal injury law firm with over four decades of experience in products liability litigation. We can help clients who have been injured by exposure to asbestos seek recovery from responsible parties. For a free attorney consultation about your case call us today at 702-388-4476 or send us a request on our contact page.