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How Do We Solve A Problem Like Asbestos?

By Jennifer Mitchell
The dangerous of asbestos are well known, but thousands of Americans still die every year from asbestos-related diseases.

The dangers of asbestos have been well-documented and widely known for many years now. So why does this problem still seem so hard to solve?

Exposure to asbestos has been linked to several serious medical conditions, including mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the tissue that covers your internal organs. Nearly 70 countries around the world have banned all types of asbestos. Surprisingly, the United States still doesn't have a complete ban.

Between 1999 and 2015, more than 45,000 people in the United States died of mesothelioma, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Annual deaths from this cancer are on the rise, from 2,479 in 1999 to 2,579 in 2015. Why are Americans still dying of asbestos-related diseases? Why is this problem so hard to solve?

Attempts to ban asbestos have failed

In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried to ban most asbestos-containing products. A federal appeals court overturned the law in 1991. As a result, many uses of asbestos aren’t currently banned in the United States.

“These products haven't been banned in the U.S. because of powerful lobbying groups for the companies that manufacture or use asbestos,” says Tina Willis, an Orlando personal injury attorney.

These groups played a role in the 1991 court case that overturned the EPA’s asbestos ban, says David Reischer, a product injury attorney at LegalAdvice.com. With this court case, “the regulatory push to completely ban asbestos came to a complete stop,” he says.

Laws limit victims' rights to sue

Many people assume that they can sue and receive full compensation if they’re harmed by asbestos or another dangerous product. “That simply is not the reality of our current legal system,” Willis says. But that doesn't mean that it's not worthwhile to file suit.

“There has been a nationwide campaign spanning a few decades to limit, eliminate, or greatly complicate lawsuits for all sorts of dangerous products,” Willis says. She says many laws have been passed “with the goal of limiting victims' rights to sue or obtain anywhere near full recovery when they do.”

While full compensation is not always available, plaintiffs suing companies for asbestos exposure have won settlements up to $1.4 million, according to Mesothelioma.com. The average award on a mesothelioma verdict is $2.4 million.

Banning asbestos wouldn’t immediately get rid of it

Even if the United States banned all uses of asbestos, this material wouldn’t immediately go away. That’s because regulations don’t get rid of all the asbestos that’s already been used in buildings. In older homes, asbestos may be found in  insulation, floor tiles, siding and other building materials.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says these items generally aren’t dangerous if they’re in good condition. But if they’re damaged, they can release asbestos fibers into the air. People could be exposed to asbestos when they renovate their homes, for instance. To protect yourself, find out if your home contains asbestos before you have your house remodeled.

Asbestos’ dangers are well known, but unfortunately, the problem is hard to solve. Tougher laws are needed to protect people from asbestos, but even stricter legislation won’t immediately get rid of this dangerous material.