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Reports That Asbestos Is Banned Are Frequent, Untrue And Dangerous

Asbestos and the injuries it causes have been prominently featured in the news for some time. Major companies have declared bankruptcy, claiming they are overwhelmed by lawsuits of people who have been injured by the asbestos in products that the companies sold.

Most of the reporting about asbestos companies gives the reader the impression that the companies are being unfairly attacked, the innocent victims of a legal system that is out of control. Such reporting is profoundly misleading, because it ignores the mountains of unrebutted evidence that the companies knew, by the 1920s, exactly how much harm their products could cause. Click here for a chronology of corporate knowledge on the hazards of asbestos.

That distortion of the companies' true responsibility is bad enough, but the media have lately been doing even worse by publishing the "news" that the asbestos-injury crisis is sure to abate because "asbestos was banned in the U.S. more than a decade ago" -- a shockingly erroneous assertion.

The idea that there is a ban on the use of asbestos in the U.S. has been published so frequently that it seems to have taken on a life of its own. Some fact-checkers are giving the statement "asbestos is banned" the treatment they usually reserve for "water is wet" or "the sun rises at dawn."

This is not a quibble over journalism; it can be a matter of life or death. If you are an auto mechanic who believes that the 1998 Chevy's brakes you are changing are too new to contain asbestos, your belief could kill you. If you are a roofer or a construction laborer repairing the roof of a 10-year-old building and you assume that you will not come into contact with asbestos, your assumption could send you to an early grave.

Asbestos is not banned. The EPA tried in 1989, but the ban was never enforced, and it was finally revoked by a federal court in 1991. Since 1989 there has been a ban on any "new" uses of asbestos, but most products that could be manufactured with asbestos in 1989 can still be manufactured and sold legally today.

As a result, about 13,100 metric tons of asbestos is in products that are sold and consumed in the U.S. every year, including in roofing materials and gaskets and friction products (including brake shoes). Construction workers and auto mechanics are particularly at risk of exposure to "new" asbestos, but no worker should ever use the date of a product's manufacture as conclusive evidence that it is asbestos-free.

Asbestos is deadly, whether it is "old" or "new," and people in the U.S. are exposed to much more "new" asbestos than they know about. Asbestos in all its uses should be banned, but as long as the careless media repeat the lie that asbestos is banned, some "new" asbestos will wind up in the lungs of workers and consumers who might have avoided exposure if they had not been led to believe that they had nothing to be concerned about.