At the height of its use, asbestos could be found in more than 3,000 products.
The EPA attempted to ban all uses of asbestos in 1989, but it was overturned.
Today, up to 1% of asbestos can still be used in certain products.
Old and current uses of asbestos products put the public at risk of exposure.
For decades, asbestos was commonly utilized for thousands of products. Though use of asbestos in the United States began to decline in the late 1970s, small amounts of the mineral are still allowed in select products with historic use, like insulation. Because of past wide use, and newer products with asbestos still available for consumer use, the public continues to be at risk of dangerous asbestos exposure.
Currently, up to 1% of asbestos is legal to use in products in the U.S. While a seemingly small amount, exposure to any amount of the mineral can cause asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma. Knowing the products that historically used the toxin in their manufacturing, and those that may still use the fibers, can help decrease exposure risk and prevent asbestos-related diseases.
Why Asbestos Is Added to Products
Asbestos has historically been added to numerous products due to its low cost and durability. Companies used the mineral in products like cement, adhesives and brakes because it is heat- and fire-resistant, as well as helps the materials withstand chemical reactions. Unfortunately, adding asbestos fibers to products can also lead to asbestos diseases, like mesothelioma, if fibers are disturbed and become airborne.
The greatest use of asbestos was between 1930 – 1970, and at its height, the toxin could be found in more than 3,000 products. While asbestos use has waned since then, past uses of the mineral still linger in old homes, buildings and products. Compounding the problem, asbestos-containing products continue to be made across the world.
According to a recent report, about two million tons of asbestos are produced across the globe each year. While the United States no longer mines asbestos, the nation continues to import the toxin to be used in various industries, largely the chloralkali industry. In 2018, 750 tons of asbestos were imported into the county, more than double the asbestos imported in 2017. This continued import and use of asbestos puts all Americans at risk of serious health issues.
Commonly Used Asbestos Products
Asbestos can be found in countless products and industries, and it’s unknown how far the use of the toxin has truly spread. Below are some of the most common uses of asbestos fibers that consumers and workers should be aware of and avoid when possible.
Asbestos has been most prevalently used in the construction industry. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the industry accounted for 70 – 80% of all asbestos consumption throughout the 20th century. Homes and buildings constructed between 1930 and 1970 are most likely to be built with asbestos-related products. Asbestos fibers were commonly used in insulation, roofing materials, asbestos cement and other products to increase durability and weather resistance.
Asbestos insulation is often cited as one of the most prevalent sources of asbestos exposure due to widespread use in the past and a continued presence in older homes. Most commonly, vermiculite was used for insulation in walls and attics across the nation. A large portion of all vermiculite used in the United States was mined in Libby, Montana. The mine was in close proximity to an asbestos deposit, causing asbestos-contaminated product. Most reports show that between 1919 and 1990, more than 70% of all vermiculite sold in the U.S. was from the Libby mines. The vermiculite insulation mined in Libby was marketed to the public as Zonolite insulation and may still be in use in homes and public spaces throughout the U.S.
Insulation and other asbestos-contaminated building materials put not only construction workers at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease, but also homeowners, school children, teachers and office workers.
Construction Materials That May Contain Asbestos
- Adhesives (3M, Celotex, Mobil Oil, National Gypsum)
- Asbestos paper or millboard (Johns Manville, GAF)
- Caulk (3M, Johns Mainville, National Gypsum)
- Cement pipe
- Ceiling tiles (United States Gypsum, National Gypsum, Owens Corning)
- Insulation (Pittsburgh Corning, Fibreboard Pabco, National Gypsum, Owens Corning)
- Joint compound (Bondex, Georgia-Pacific, Kaiser Gypsum, Kelly Moore Paco)
- Roofing shingles (Flintkote, GAF, Johns Manville, National Gypsum)
- Siding (National Gypsum, Flintkote, GAF Ruberoid, John Manville)
- Tiling (Armstrong, Flintkote)
- Vinyl floor tiles (GAF)
Once the carcinogenic properties of the asbestos fibers became more well-known, asbestos companies began marketing their products as “encapsulated asbestos” to quell any safety concerns. However, when these “encapsulated” products are broken, by weather, damage or construction, the dangerous fibers may become airborne, leading to inhalation or ingestion and illness.
Asbestos was once used extensively within the automotive and transportation-related industries. Today, some new automotive products like brakes can still legally contain up to 1% of asbestos. The asbestos is added to materials to combat the high friction and high-temperature environments within cars and other motorized vehicles, like boats, ATVs and motorcycles.
Vehicle Parts That May Contain Asbestos
- Brakes (Raymark, Uniroyal B.F. Goodrich)
- Brake linings (Johns Manville, Ferodo)
- Brake pads (AlliedSignal, Bendix, Ferodo)
- Brake shoes
- Clutch facings
- Clutch linings (Raymark, Johns Manville)
- Disc brakes (Raymark)
- Drum brakes (Raymark, General Motors)
- Transmission plates (Raymark)
Anyone who comes into contact with these products, through work or hobbies, may be at risk of asbestos exposure. Those who work using these products repeatedly, such as brake mechanics, have an elevated risk of developing asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis.
Asbestos was commonly added to products to improve fireproofing abilities. In the past, some of these fireproof products were made completely of asbestos, while others contained a smaller percentage of the mineral. Even products with minimal asbestos fibers can be dangerous, as any amount of exposure can eventually lead to an asbestos disease.
These products were often worn or used by firefighters and other first responders to protect themselves when dealing with fires and other high-risk environmental circumstances. Unfortunately, when this equipment becomes damaged by fire or by general wear and tear, the asbestos particles may become airborne and susceptible to inhalation. According to a study analyzing the cancer incidence among firefighters from San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia, the firefighters had a two-times greater risk of developing mesothelioma compared to the general public, particularly pleural mesothelioma, likely due to their occupational asbestos exposure.
Fireproofing Materials That May Contain Asbestos
- Asbestos blankets (Raymark, Rockwool, Unarco)
- Asbestos boards (Flintkote, National Gypsum)
- Asbestos cloth (H.K. Porter, Raymark)
- Asbestos curtains
- Firebrick (Harbison-Walker, A.P. Green, GAF)
Firefighters should perform regular maintenance on their equipment and ensure they’re adhering to all safety procedures, including wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). When worn properly, a SCBA can prevent inhalation of airborne asbestos particles and other respiratory toxins, preventing disease.
Even though occupational asbestos exposure is the most common, the larger public may be at risk of exposure due to the use of the toxin in consumer products. Many goods made between 1930 and 1970 used asbestos fibers to safeguard against high temperature and friction, which could cause burns when items were in use. While many of these consumer products, like hairdryers, are no longer produced with asbestos today, old products may still remain in homes and businesses. The aging process of these products makes them more prone to breaking and releasing asbestos fibers into the air.
Consumer Goods That May Contain Asbestos
- Cigarette filters
- Fire blankets
- Ironing board covers
- Oven mitts
- Potting soil
- Talcum powder (Bauer and Black, Old Spice, English Leather, Yardley)
Newer products have also been found to contain asbestos fibers. Some of these products have been marketed at children, including crayons, toy sets and pre-teen makeup, often as a result of contaminated talc. When the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and other agencies find asbestos or other contaminants in such products, a recall will be issued. Consumers should stay up-to-date on product recalls and be aware of the ingredients in products they use, like talc.
Talcum powder has been in use across the world since the 1800s. While pure talcum powder is perfectly safe, there are many instances of asbestos-contaminated talc making its way to the market. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified asbestos-containing talc as carcinogenic to humans and there are regulations in place by the FDA to prevent contaminated products from reaching the marketplace.
Despite the laws, some talc products have been found to have trace amounts of asbestos in them. When these products are applied, the asbestos fibers become airborne and may be inhaled. The tainted talcum powder has been shown to largely lead to mesothelioma, ovarian cancer and other asbestos-related diseases among women, particularly in those that have no other history of asbestos exposure.
Talc Products Known to Have Contained Asbestos
- Bauer and Black Baby Talc
- Cashmere Bouquet Body Talc
- Clubman Talcum Powder
- Coty Airspun Face Powder
- Desert Flower Dusting Powder
- English Leather After Shave Talc
- Faberge Brut Talc
- Friendship Garden talcum powder
- Rosemary Talc
- Yardley Invisible Talc
- Yardley Black Label Baby Powder
- ZBT Baby Powder with Baby Oil
Asbestos Product Safety
Asbestos is a microscopic mineral that is not visible to the naked eye, which makes it extremely difficult to identify when products contain the toxic substance. If you or a loved one have worked with or near any asbestos products, especially construction workers and others in industries with known asbestos use, it’s important to have open discussions with healthcare professionals to better understand personal health risks.
While past asbestos exposure is not reversible, being aware and preventing any future exposure can be lifesaving. For instance, homeowners completing any construction, do-it-yourself projects or home maintenance should ensure their home was not built with asbestos products before beginning such projects. All regulatory health and safety organizations, including the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recommend that homeowners do not try to inspect or remove asbestos from their homes themselves. Instead, homeowners should hire asbestos abatement professionals to complete all necessary work.
Those concerned that there may be asbestos fibers in consumer goods within their homes should treat the item as if it is in fact contaminated to prevent any risk. Older items, especially those listed above, should be replaced regularly to ensure that they meet all current asbestos safety legislation.
Asbestos Use Rules and Regulations
While a complete asbestos ban has yet to be passed in the United States, there are numerous regulations in place on state and federal levels to protect Americans from exposure. A partial ban on asbestos was passed in 1989. However, many of the regulations were overturned and it is still legal for certain products to contain up to 1% of asbestos.
In recent years, the EPA has been investigating the public health risk of asbestos to update regulations or lead to a possible ban. In April 2019, the EPA revisited their asbestos rulings and released the Significant New Use Rule (SNUR). The legislation mandates that after June 24, 2019, all asbestos-containing products that are no longer manufactured and new uses must be evaluated by the EPA before being introduced to the market. The regulation is meant to give the EPA time to determine if the product would pose a risk to the public, and would allow them to require alterations to the product or halt production in order to protect public health.
Additionally, the Asbestos Information Act (AIA), passed in 1988, mandates that companies within the construction industry make their asbestos use known to the public. While not limiting asbestos use, spreading this knowledge to the public enables them to make the necessary decisions to safeguard their families.
Even with such regulations in place, until a complete ban is enacted, being vigilant about consumer goods and the products within the home is the only way to prevent exposure and asbestos diseases like mesothelioma.