Imports of asbestos to the United States soar by 2,000 percent

Asbestos imports to the U.S. soared 2,000 percent after the EPA proposed a controversial rule change.

Many people wrongly assume that asbestos is completely banned in the United States. While asbestos is certainly much more tightly regulated than it was a few decades ago, the fact is that the U.S. continues to import asbestos for a variety of uses, even as dozens of other countries work to ban this lethal substance. As Quartz reports, recently released figures show that not only are asbestos imports continuing, but they actually surged an alarming 2,000 percent between July and August of this year. Some critics say that surge is thanks to a controversial Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed rule change that could allow for even more asbestos-containing products.

Asbestos imports surge dramatically

In August, the U.S. imported 272 metric tons of asbestos, which was worth about $400,000. That was a 2,000 percent increase from July's imports of 13 metric tons of asbestos worth just $26,000. To be fair, asbestos imports do fluctuate dramatically from month to month, although they have mostly been in decline since 2013. The 2,000 percent increase, however, is unusually large.

Critics point out that the surge came right after the EPA announced a proposal for "a significant new use rule" concerning asbestos. The proposed new rule would allow manufacturers to petition the U.S. government on a case-by-case basis to allow products that contain asbestos. There has been concern that, if adopted, the rule change could lead to many more asbestos-containing products being allowed in U.S. homes, products, and businesses.

Asbestos deaths underestimated

That proposed rule change also came just after the International Commission of Occupational Health (ICOH) released a study claiming that asbestos deaths, both in the U.S. and worldwide, are significantly underestimated. As Asbestos.com reports, in 2016 alone, the study estimates that 39,275 people died of asbestos-related deaths in the U.S. and 222,321 died of asbestos-related diseases throughout the world.

Those figures are about double previous estimates, which are derived from governmental and non-governmental health agencies. The reason asbestos-related deaths have been so underestimated is because health agencies often only directly link mesothelioma deaths to asbestos, despite the fact that there are many fatal diseases that can be caused by asbestos exposure. Lung cancer, in particular, can be caused by asbestos, but because it is harder to definitively say whether or not a person's lung cancer was caused by asbestos rather than another factor, many such cases are attributed to smoking.

Help for asbestos victims

Clearly, asbestos is extremely dangerous and anybody who has been exposed to it - particularly those working in construction and heavy industries - are at a high risk of developing health problems. An attorney who specializes in asbestos-related cases can help. Compensation is available for victims of asbestos-related diseases and an attorney can show those victims how to go about pursuing whatever compensation they may be entitled to.