History of Asbestos, Pt. 5: Asbestos in the Present Day

close up of asbestos fibers

As news of asbestos-related diseases spread across the United States, the American public started to become increasingly suspicious of asbestos companies that had, for so long, denied the dangers of asbestos exposure.

Asbestos companies that had known about the long-term health risks began to experience social and legal scrutiny, with families across the country filing mesothelioma claims.

Learn more about the start of asbestos legal fights and the mineral’s continued use in the present day.

Tracking the Impacts of Asbestos

In July 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a ban on most asbestos products, based on a 10-year study that found the material was dangerous to human health.

The ban was placed on the distribution, import, manufacturing and processing of select asbestos-containing products. It also prohibited any new asbestos products from being sold after August 25, 1989.

However, in 1991, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the EPA’s asbestos ban after pressures from profitable companies in the asbestos industry.

A few years later, the World Health Organization (WHO) began tracking the number of deaths attributed to mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.

A total of 92,253 mesothelioma-related deaths were reported by 83 countries between 1994 and 2008, according to the WHO.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information currently reports that more than 250,000 deaths are caused by asbestos each year on average.

The Case for Cancer: Asbestos Litigation Through the Years

In 1973, Borel v. Fibreboard became the first major asbestos lawsuit to successfully hold an asbestos manufacturer accountable for the harm done to an insulation worker.

Over the next 10 years, more than 25,000 other asbestos-related cases were also tried. By 2002, over 730,000 asbestos plaintiffs had successfully sued 8,400 companies for damages.

In total, the defendants in these cases were ordered to pay $70 billion in mesothelioma compensation.

A Mesothelioma Milestone: Simmons Hanly Conroy Makes History

In 2003, mesothelioma lawyers at Simmons Hanly Conroy made history by securing a $250 million verdict. This result remains the largest asbestos verdict for a single plaintiff to this day.

The case, Whittington v. U.S. Steel, highlighted the pain and suffering of Roby Whittington, a 70-year-old retired U.S. Steel worker in Indiana who was diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Worries Around the World

To date, nearly 70 nations around the globe have banned asbestos usage:

  • In November 1999, the United Kingdom banned the import and use of asbestos in an effort to protect the health and safety of industrial workers.
  • By January 1, 2005, all 27 members of the European Union had banned asbestos in all its forms.
  • In 2011, following a 130-year workforce tradition, Canada halted operations of its two asbestos mines. The shutdown was enforced in response to the widespread knowledge that asbestos causes certain incurable diseases and cancers.

Turning Point in Italy

In 2012, Italian businessmen Stephan Schmidheiny and Jean-Louis de Cartier de Marchienne, who served as key partners at fiber cement company Eternit, were held legally responsible for failing to protect their employees and Northern Italy communities from asbestos exposure.

After a two-year trial, they were ordered to serve 16 years in prison for the deaths of more than 2,000 workers in Italy prior to 1992.

According to the verdict, the company’s work on rooftops and pipes caused large quantities of asbestos fibers to be distributed in the air over large areas of Northern Italy. This led to thousands of people developing serious diseases and resulted in countless preventable deaths.

Asbestos in America: Ongoing Dangers for Years to Come

Despite the global acknowledgment of and reactions to the harmful effects of asbestos, the American government has been slow to pass legislation that will protect the public from the ongoing dangers of asbestos.

After more than 30 years without a ban on asbestos, the EPA finalized a ban on chrysotile asbestos in March 2024. The ban mainly focuses on the chlorine manufacturing (chlor-alkali) industry, which imported 250 tons of asbestos in 2022.

However, the EPA’s latest ban only bans one type of asbestos and allows for long timelines for phasing out the carcinogen.

Legacy Asbestos Pollution

One area of concern for asbestos exposure today is the presence of legacy asbestos, a term used to describe asbestos that still exists in older buildings and products in use.

For example, on September 11, 2001, as a direct result of the tragic terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, large quantities of asbestos were released into the air.

It’s believed that asbestos-laced materials were originally used to build the Twin Towers in Manhattan, so when the buildings collapsed, asbestos fibers were inevitably part of the debris distributed into the air.

As a result, New York City residents, particularly first responders and sanitation workers, were advised to take precautions like wearing masks when outdoors and keeping their windows shut.

To help minimize the potential spread of asbestos fibers from employees to other members of their households, they were also encouraged to wash their hands and faces regularly.

While this exposure wasn’t prolonged, it still proved dangerous for many people as there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.

Unfortunately, millions of buildings across the nation still contain asbestos, which could put families at risk of exposure today.

Find a Mesothelioma Lawyer Near You

As one of the nation’s leading mesothelioma law firms, Simmons Hanly Conroy has a proven team of experienced attorneys, nurses and staff members who are dedicated to helping families affected by mesothelioma.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease — whether from your job site, usage of cosmetic products or secondhand through a member of your household — you may be entitled to compensation.

For over 20 years, we’ve held companies accountable for endangering the lives of so many Americans, recovering over $9.3 billion for families nationwide affected by mesothelioma.

Our mesothelioma lawyers may be able to fight for justice on your behalf. Get a free legal consultation now to see if we can help you get the compensation you deserve.

Keep Reading

Learn more about the history of asbestos in the previous parts of this series:

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Editorial Team

The Simmons Hanly Conroy Editorial Team consists of journalists, writers and editors who strive to deliver accurate and useful information to families needing legal help. Our team works alongside the firm's attorneys and partners, as well as with medical professionals and other specialists, to keep all information relevant and helpful.

View Sources
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