In Contrast to US, Ireland Bans Asbestos as Part of European Union

The U.S. still allows some products on the market containing the deadly mineral.

Americans of all stripes don the green every March 17 for an enthusiastic celebration of all things Irish. Yet another reason for which Ireland should be respected is in its show of strength by banning asbestos in the face of a powerful international asbestos lobby by mining and industrial interests. Because Ireland is a member of the European Union, it enforces the EU regulatory ban on the placement of asbestos or asbestos-containing products "on the market," according to Citizens Information, the Irish government information website.

According to Citizens Information, asbestos was used in building materials and consumer goods until 1999 in Ireland. Accordingly, like people in the rest of Western Europe and in the U.S., people at home and at work on the Emerald Isle are at risk of dust-born asbestos exposure when their homes and workplaces undergo remodeling, repairs or demolition without following procedures required by safety laws, such as having suspicious materials tested for the mineral and asbestos removal work done by licensed abatement contractors.

Many people in the U.S. mistakenly believe that asbestos is banned worldwide or at least here in our country. Unfortunately, only 55 countries have banned the mineral (except for some minor uses), reports the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, and the U.S. is not one of them. Other major countries that still allow asbestos are China, Russia, Brazil and India. Ironically, while Canada bans the use of asbestos, Canada is still one of the biggest exporters of asbestos fiber from its asbestos mines.

The EWG Action Fund estimates that between 12,000 and 15,000 people die in the U.S. annually from diseases caused by asbestos exposure like asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. Some people were exposed decades ago at work or in the military, through secondary exposure when loved ones brought it home on work clothing or unknowingly during home remodeling or repair - a danger that continues today in older homes.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned asbestos from spray-on applications in the early 1970s, and from a few other products in the later 1970s. The Consumer Protection Agency banned asbestos from joint compounds in 1978. The EPA issued regulations in 1989 that banned most products that contained asbestos, but this ban was vacated by a federal appeals court in 1991 after the asbestos manufacturers sued to overturn the ban, according to the EPA website. At the time of this writing in March 2016, federal law still does not contain a blanket asbestos ban.

The EPA lists examples of some products that are still banned if they contain asbestos:

  • Corrugated paper
  • Rollboard
  • Commercial paper
  • Specialty paper
  • Flooring felt
  • New uses of asbestos in products that have not typically contained the mineral
  • Certain types of pipe insulation
  • Certain types of block insulation
  • Certain spray-applied surfacing materials under certain conditions
  • Artificial fireplace embers
  • Wall-patching compounds

Unsettlingly, the EPA also lists many products that are still not banned even if they do contain asbestos like clothing, millboard, cement pipe, gaskets, roof coatings and more.

Anyone in the U.S. who suffers from asbestos-related illness or who has lost a loved one to such a condition should speak with legal counsel to understand what options exist to pursue legal recourse for compensation for the harm suffered.

The lawyers of Brayton Purcell, L.L.P., with offices in California, Oregon, Utah and Washington, and co-counsel in Oklahoma and Hawaii, advocate for clients who suffered harm from asbestos exposure across the entire nation.