Asbestos is banned in the US… right?
Yes and no. It’s certain to come as a shock to a lot of people – but use of asbestos is not completely banned in the US.
Just a little history: in 1970, the EPA banned the use of asbestos in sprayed-on applications, such as fireproofing. In 1976, additional regulations were placed on asbestos (along with radon, lead, etc.)
It wasn’t until July of 1989 that the EPA established a complete ban on all materials containing asbestos in the US. The “Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule” (ABPR), as it was called, didn’t last very long in the US courts. By October of ‘91, the Fifth Circuit Court had overturned most of the EPA regulation as a result of the case “Corrosion Proof Fittings v. the Environmental Protection Agency”.
So what stayed asbestos materials banned? In addition to sprayed-on asbestos, these six categories of asbestos-containing materials remained banned under the 1989 ABPR:
And then here’s the list of products that were un-banned by the Fifth Circuit ruling:
Asbestos-cement corrugated sheet, asbestos-cement flat sheet, asbestos clothing, pipeline wrap, roofing felt, vinyl-asbestos floor tile, asbestos-cement shingle, millboard, asbestos-cement pipe, automatic transmission components, clutch facings, friction materials, disc brake pads, drum brake linings, brake blocks, gaskets, non-roofing coatings and roof coatings.
As you can see, there are still a number of products that have the potential to contain asbestos. This is why, under federal regulations, any renovation or demolition carried out on any public or commercial building requires a complete asbestos inspection before work can begin. This rule still applies even if the commercial building was constructed after 1989, simply because of the possibility that asbestos-containing materials could have been used in construction.
What about residential buildings?
Private, residential buildings and home do not fall under any EPA regulation regarding renovation or demolition (unless the building is being demolished to make way for a public works project). This means that an accredited asbestos inspection is not required by federal law before renovation or demolition.
Does that mean it’s safe to begin major renovations on a home – especially one built before the 90s – without an inspection of building materials first? No, it’s probably not safe. Blown-in insulation, plaster walls and ceilings, flooring, roofing material, plumbing and piping all have the potential to contain asbestos. And for many of these materials, it is not possible to determine if they contain asbestos without microscopy sampling conducted by a lab.