H.R. 1603 Manager’s Amendment (November 19, 2019)

FAQs — 2019 ARBAN Key Points

Posted on January 9, 2019

One fact alone should be evidence enough for an all-out asbestos ban: All types of asbestos cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, according to the World Health Organization, as well as cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs). Exposure to asbestos occurs through “inhalation of fibers in the air, in the working environment, ambient air in the vicinity of point sources such as factories handling asbestos, or indoor air in housing and buildings containing friable (crumbly) asbestos materials.” There is no safe level of exposure. 

However, despite many urgent moral, political, and ecological imperatives to act on asbestos, a simpler, more tangible argument also exists for a federal asbestos ban in the United States: we’re essentially the only industrialized western country left on Earth without an asbestos ban.

Asbestos exposure is a pressing public health crisis, claiming the lives of nearly 40,000 American citizens every single year. It is also brings to question how we treat our workforce — American teachers, firefighters, and construction workers are among some of the most vulnerable to this lethal fiber. The changing climate also raises additional concerns. As rising global temperatures drive more intense and dangerous weather, damage to old buildings built with “legacy” asbestos (most buildings built before 1970 still contain asbestos), likely increases potential exposure to the known carcinogen

The United States has a long, complicated history with asbestos, fraught with countless preventable deaths and several failed attempts to ban the fiber. Last year marked 30 years since the last proper effort to do so, which was eventually defeated in court by industry lobbyists, providing an appropriate moment for studying the role this carcinogen has played in the United States. Since 1989, more than one million Americans have died as a result of asbestos exposure, and about $100,000,000 USD has been spent importing 375,000 metric tons of the mineral.

To date, nearly 70 nations have enacted federal legislation to prohibit the use, imports, and/or mining of asbestos. Beginning in 1983, when Iceland prohibited all imports of the fiber, the world’s industrialized nations began steadily passing legislation to prevent the circulation and use of this known carcinogen. Norway did the same in 1984 and several Middle Eastern countries followed suit in the 1990s, including Kuwait (1995), Bahrain (1996), and Saudi Arabia (1998). To be clear, no U.S. company would dare manufacture asbestos products; however, some companies knowingly import asbestos products. Without a ban — profits trump public health.

The United States now lags decades behind the European Union on asbestos policy, as the 28-nation bloc saw the last of its members ban the mineral in 2005. A still harsher contrast was drawn in 2018, when neighboring Canada passed a federal ban bill of their own. Russia, China, Kazakhstan, and India remain alongside the U.S. in continuing to allow the fiber’s use.

Despite this global trend, buoyed by public health demands and ecological necessity, asbestos imports are booming in the United States. In 2018, the most recent year for which the United States Geological Survey has reported on these figures, the U.S. imported 750 metric tons of the mineral, more than double 2017’s total. The bulk of this asbestos was exported from Brazil, but, as that nation banned the mineral that same year, the United States has since imported all asbestos from Russia. 

Now you know the truth about the ban asbestos leaders and laggards and why you should care. With the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2019 (ARBAN) progressing through Congress, the U.S. now has another chance to redirect our checkered past toward a safer future. By banning all imports and use, increasing transparency standards for the asbestos industry, and mandating risk evaluations for legacy asbestos, ARBAN promises to catch the United States up with the rest of the world. It is time we pass legislation of this pedigree and join our peers around the globe with a 21st century plan to keep our people safe.

Country Year Enacted   Country Year Enacted  
Algeria 2009   Korea (South) 2009  
Argentina 2003   Kuwait 1995  
Australia 2003   Latvia 2005 (EU)  
Austria 2005 (EU)   Liechtenstein 2005 (EU)  
Bahrain 1996   Lithuania 2005 (EU)  
Belgium 2005 (EU)   Luxembourg 2005 (EU)  
Brazil 2017   Macedonia 2014  
Brunei     Malta 2005 (EU)  
Bulgaria 2005 (EU)   Mauritius 2004  
Canada 2018   Moldova 2016  
Chile 2001   Monaco 2005 (EU)  
Colombia 2019   Mozambique 2010  
Croatia 2005 (EU)   New Zealand 2016  
Cyprus 2005 (EU)   Norway 1984  
Czech Republic 2005 (EU)   Oman 2008  
Denmark 2005 (EU)   Poland 2005 (EU)  
Djibouti 1999   Portugal 2005 (EU)  
Egypt 2005   Qatar 2010  
Estonia 2005 (EU)   Romania 2005 (EU)  
Finland 2005 (EU)   Saudi Arabia 1998  
France 2005 (EU)   Serbia 2011  
Gabon 2002 – 2004   Seychelles 2009  
Germany 2005 (EU)   Slovenia 2005 (EU)  
Gibraltar 2005 (EU)   Slovakia 2005 (EU)  
Greece 2005 (EU)   South Africa 2008  
Honduras 2004   Spain 2005 (EU)  
Hungary 2005 (EU)   Sweden 2005 (EU)  
Iceland 1983   Switzerland 1990  
Iraq 2016   Taiwan 2010  
Ireland 2005 (EU)   The Netherlands 2005 (EU)  
Israel 2011   Turkey 2010  
Italy 2005 (EU)   New Caledonia 2007  
Japan 2012   United Kingdom 1992  
Jordan 2006   Uruguay    

The international ban asbestos list is compiled from The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency and the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, and ADAO’s research.