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Litigation and Laws That Shaped the History of Asbestos

Asbestos became increasingly popular during the early 1900s and was used in a variety of applications, including pipe and ceiling insulation, concrete, bricks, pipes, gaskets, fireproof drywall, and lawn furniture. The companies that manufactured these and other products knew about the harmful nature of asbestos, but failed to warn those working with the mineral or the general public. Decades later, thousands of people who were diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses have taken legal action, holding the companies that made and sold asbestos-containing products accountable for their actions.

Mesothelioma attorneys have historically worked to help mesothelioma victims recover compensation. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a mesothelioma attorney may be able to help you hold the asbestos industry accountable for the harm it has caused you. For a free, no-obligation case evaluation, complete our case review form today.

The Asbestos Cover Up

In the 1920s and 1930s, medical researchers began to observe a large number of early deaths from lung problems in asbestos-mining towns. For example, in 1930, Dr. A. J. Lanza of MetLife undertook a four-year study on behalf of the Johns Manville Corporation titled “Effects of Inhalation of Asbestos Dust upon the Lungs of Asbestos Workers” and concluded that asbestos was, in fact, extremely dangerous. Dr. Lanza recommended that the Johns Manville Corporation—at the time one of the country’s largest manufacturers of asbestos-containing insulation products—take measures to protect its workers from the dangers of asbestos.

Instead of implementing Dr. Lanza’s recommendations, a Johns Manville executive requested that he change the report to downplay the dangers of asbestos. The executive also wrote a memo stating that it would be in the company’s best interest if the dangers of asbestos did not receive any public attention. Dozens of other asbestos companies followed suit, hiding the mineral’s risks from their employees and the public at large.

Bans on Asbestos

In 1973, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) banned spray-applied asbestos containing material used for fireproofing and insulation purposes. Over the next several years, the EPA banned asbestos for many other uses, and in 1989, issued the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule banning asbestos use in most products. A federal appellate court, however, overturned this regulation in 1991. As a result of this ruling, the United States still allows asbestos to be used for a limited number of purposes.

Asbestos continues to be mined overseas. In 2009, approximately 2 million tons of asbestos were mined worldwide.

Asbestos Laws and Regulations

U.S. laws and regulations addressing asbestos exposure include:

  • Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act: Passed by Congress in 1986, the federal law required the EPA to issue regulations instructing schools to inspect their buildings for asbestos-containing building materials. The law also required schools to prepare asbestos management plans to prevent and reduce asbestos exposure.
  • Asbestos Information Act: Congress passed the Asbestos Information Act in 1988 to require former and current manufacturers and processors of certain asbestos products to disclose to the EPA the names of their products that contain asbestos. The law also requires the EPA to organize and publish the submitted information. The Asbestos Information Act intends to provide transparency for mesothelioma victims and to identify the companies that could be held liable for injuries caused to their workers and the general public.
  • Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act: This law authorized funding for a loan and grant program to assist schools in removing asbestos. Following the release of an EPA study finding that more than 44,000 school buildings in America contained asbestos, Congress passed the law in 1990 to require schools, public buildings and commercial buildings to use accredited inspectors and workers when removing asbestos.
  • National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants: Issued under the Clean Air Act, these EPA regulations establish best practices to minimize the release of asbestos fibers during the removal of asbestos and asbestos-containing material from old buildings. The regulations require the owner of a building to notify the appropriate state environmental agency before conducting any renovation or demolition work to a building that contains or could contain asbestos.