This ban, if it goes into full effect, will protect future generations from various kinds of illnesses, including pollution-induced cancer. However, it does nothing to compensate the hundreds of thousands of asbestos exposure victims who are among us today.

Partial Ban of Asbestos Extended to Near Complete Asbestos Ban

The new rule would ban chrysotile asbestos, the only ongoing use of asbestos in the United States. The substance, which accounts for about 80 percent of the world’s asbestos use, is found in products such as brake linings and gaskets and is used to manufacture chlorine bleach and sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda, including some that is used for water purification.

Asbestos is known to cause cancer worldwide

EPA Administrator Michael Regan called the final rule a major step to protect public health. “With today’s ban, EPA is finally slamming the door on a chemical so dangerous that it has been banned in over 50 countries,’’ he said. “The science is clear: Asbestos is a known carcinogen that has severe impacts on public health. This action is just the beginning as we work to protect all American families, workers and communities from toxic chemicals,’’ he added.

The American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s largest lobbying group, said a fifteen-year transition period is needed to avoid a significant disruption of chlorine and sodium hydroxide supplies. The EPA rule already allows asbestos-containing sheet gaskets to be used until 2037 in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

EPA Rules and Question Marks

As mentioned, environmental rules, if approved, alter the future. But they don’t change the past. Regarding the EPA’s asbestos ban, there are three big “if”s to consider.

First, the rule must go into effect as drafted. In this context, “final” basically means “mostly final.” Many uncertainties remain, and industry challenges are inevitable.

One controversy, the implementation period, was mentioned above. The longer the implementation period, the more people will be exposed to deadly asbestos. Furthermore, if the asbestos industry delays the implementation period, it may be able to overturn it in court and not alter its current practices. More on that below.

Asbestos still used in many countries: important to properly source materials and products

Other uncertainties include the distinction between use and importation, unwitting use of asbestos, mostly in imported industrial parts, and uses not addressed in the regulation.

Ban on use, not necessarily importation

From what we know now, the rule bans the use, but not the importation, of asbestos. Therefore, longshoremen and other such workers may still risk serious illness. In fact, their risk may increase. If they find asbestos in an imported part, they may have a duty to dispose of it.

Additionally, asbestos-containing components often don’t list asbestos among the ingredients. That was certainly the case in the W.R. Grace vermiculite mine disaster. For decades, the Grace Company shipped asbestos-laced vermiculite across the country and did not tell anyone about the risk.

Finally, if they obey laws at all, companies usually only obey the letter of the law, not the spirit of it. So, if bureaucrats fail to include any asbestos use, no matter how obscure, in the language of the law, companies will almost certainly exploit that loophole.

Second, courts must approve the ban. Judges rejected a similar ban in 1991 (the court left a limited ban in place). There’s little reason to believe a court case in 2025 would turn out differently.

In that case, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the EPA “failed to muster substantial evidence to support its rule.”

Unclear if courts will support the EPA’s asbestos ban

Substantial evidence is a higher standard of proof than a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), which is the standard of proof in civil court. Most scientists agree that asbestos is the near-exclusive cause of mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other serious diseases. However, that belief is far from unanimous. That’s especially true if the victim smoked or had another lifestyle or genetic predisposition.

Several of the judges who issued that 1991 decision still serve on the Fifth Court of Appeals. Several others were replaced with like-minded judges appointed by Geroge W. Bush or Donald Trump. Furthermore, as mentioned below, the Supreme Court has recently issued a spate of industry-friendly environmental law decisions.

The news isn’t all bad. Today, additional evidence links asbestos with cancer, specifically regarding the process. Asbestos increases the level of free radical particles in the body. These particles are connected to a variety of cancers.

Third, companies must comply with the ban. Good luck with that. Asbestos is such a cheap material that many companies will continue to use this substance and run the risk of getting caught. 

The EPA, like most other federal agencies, has a small overall budget and an even smaller compliance/inspection budget. Quite simply, this agency cannot possibly watch everyone all the time. Furthermore, even if non compliant companies are caught, they often only pay fines that barely exceed the amount of money they illegally saved.

Asbestos Exposure Diseases

The total asbestos ban will hopefully protect future generations. The harm asbestos has caused in the past is much more certain. This harm includes diseases like:

  • La Asbestosis: This lung disease begins when toxic asbestos fibers burn lung airways. The resulting scar tissue blocks these airways. Eventually, these victims have trouble breathing almost all the time, even while at rest.
  • Mesotelioma pleural: PlM is the deadliest asbestos exposure-related illness. Its five-year life expectancy rate is under 10 percent. This rare and aggressive form of lung cancer is hard to detect and even harder to treat. When physical lung cancer symptoms appear, such as coughing, many doctors mistake spots on the lung for another kind of lung cancer, delaying the PlM diagnosis. Once this cancer metastasizes, almost nothing can stop it.
  • Mesotelioma peritoneal: PtM is a rare and aggressive form of abdominal cancer. Like its cousin, PtM is difficult to diagnose. Unlike its cousin, some effective, albeit high risk, PtM treatments are available.

Other direct asbestos exposure illnesses include laryngeal cancer, pleural thickening, and brain cancer. Ovarian cancer may be the most prominent indirect asbestos exposure illness. Asbestos fibers that leaked into talcum powder migrate up the fallopian tubes and into the ovaries.

All these illnesses have extremely long latency periods, usually a half-century or more. This latency period further complicates the diagnosis and treatment process. 

Asbestos Exposure Victims

We discussed three big asbestos ban “ifs” above. Likewise, three major groups of people are at risk for asbestos exposure illnesses.

  • Direct Occupational: Especially before 1990, construction workers, many industrial workers, and shipbuilders handled asbestos-laced products. A single microscopic fiber or dust particle could cause one of the illnesses mentioned above.
  • Indirect Occupational: Office clerks at construction companies, sailors aboard Navy ships, and janitors at manufacturing companies worked inside asbestos-laced facilities. Furthermore, asbestos fibers usually float for at least seventy-two hours before they come to rest.
  • Ambient (Environmental): Asbestos particles cling to virtually anything, including hair and clothes. So many people who work with asbestos carry fibers home with them. The fibers embed in upholstery, carpet, and other surfaces, in homes and cars, where others were exposed.

These risks didn’t end in 1990. Original World Trade Center construction plans called for 5,000 tons of asbestos. This asbestos was part of the toxic cloud that blanketed much of New York City following 9/11.

Usage bans don’t compensate victims, but several viable options are available, mostly depending on the nature of the exposure.

Most recent court decisions have not been victim-friendly in this area, such as a 2016 Supreme Court decision that dismantled a climate change law. The Supremes have issued similar decisions in recent years as well.

However, victims still have the right to file claims, and if they connect the defendant to the asbestos exposure, substantial compensation is available, including substantial punitive damages. The compensation in these cases could easily be six figures or more.

No-fault options, which are slightly easier to prove, include VA disability, workers’ compensation, and Social Security disability. These victims (or survivors) are usually entitled to compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills and lost wages.

An extra-legal option, bankruptcy victim compensation fund petitions, is often available as well. If available, a bankruptcy VCF claim is usually the fastest and easiest way to obtain compensation, especially if the victim qualifies for expedited review.