Asbestos, the Magic Mineral, Is Back!

Promo image. Johns-Manville Ad

The EPA is making it easier to get asbestos products approved, but it’s unlikely anyone will bite.

Asbestos really is a miracle material. In buildings, siding made from it lasted forever; Vinyl-asbestos floor tiles never wore out; Transite pipe was non-combustible; Asbestos fireproofing worked really well in steel buildings and all the ships at sea during the World Wars.


Flexboard Asbestos siding/Promo image

As Henry Grabar of Slate notes, the president is a former real estate developer of a certain age. I am too, and we both loved the stuff, although I am younger by enough years that it was already falling out of use.

He still thinks it’s great and blames the mob for pushing for its removal,and tweeted in 2012 that “If we didn't remove incredibly powerful fire retardant asbestos & replace it with junk that doesn't work, the World Trade Center would never have burned down.”

vinyl asbestos tile

Vinyl and asbestos, our two favourite materials/Promo image

In some ways, he is not wrong; removing it can cause more harm and danger than just leaving it in place- if it is encapsulated in a Transite pipe or a floor tile, it’s not hurting anyone. Saw it up and create asbestos dust and you have a issues- as noted in an earlier post, "the problems come when you are the poor schlepper who is making something with it, renovating or demolishing; a single asbestos fiber in the lungs can cause “irreversible damage - leading to asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma.”


Vinyl asbestos tile ad/Promo image

Asbestos was never banned in the USA.

Bans didn’t make asbestos go away; lawsuits did. Manufacturer Johns-Manville Corporation became the biggest corporate bankruptcy in history in 1982; payouts to victims run into the billions. Since then, use has fallen by 99.9 percent. Mines all over the world have closed; just about the only place you can still get it is from Russia, which some suspect might have something to do with this President’s change in the regulations.

In the USA, certain uses were restricted, but it was never banned; as Henry Grabar explains:

In 1989, the EPA tried to ban asbestos outright, under a 1976 law called the Toxic Substances Control Act. The phased prohibition was overturned by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1991, and the agency succeeded in halting only six then-obsolete uses of asbestos, including corrugated paper and flooring felt.

It is still being imported for limited uses; as noted in our recent post on PVC production, 480 tons are brought in every year for diaphragms needed to make chlorine.

What has happened now under the Trump administration is that the EPA has issued a “significant new use rule” or SNUR, which allows companies to apply to make products on a case by case basis. They list the products open for consideration:

Adhesives, sealants, and roof and non-roof coatings; arc chutes; beater-add gaskets; extruded sealant tape and other tape; filler for acetylene cylinders; high-grade electrical paper; millboard; missile liner; pipeline wrap; reinforced plastics; roofing felt; separators in fuel cells and batteries; vinyl-asbestos floor tile; and any other building material (other than cement).

I don’t know why they excluded cement, it made terrific, durable, fireproof siding. But none of this matters; it is unlikely that any company is going to use the stuff. Lawsuits continue to be filed; lawyers are so into asbestos litigation that they are making youtube videos about it. Removal of anything involving asbestos is expensive. If it is in a building, it seriously hits the value of the property. In this case, the market is the new EPA.

asbestos collecting

Asbestos collecting!/via