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History of Asbestos | Simmons Mesothelioma Foundation

Simmons Mesothelioma Foundation

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Asbestos History

The history of asbestos can be traced all the way back to ancient Rome, where the historian Pliny the Elder observed slaves in asbestos mines and wrote about the relationship between asbestos and respiratory diseases.1 Fast-forward to the early 20th century: modern medical literature reported the first asbestos-related condition as asbestos started to become popular. In the 1930s, scientific evidence had already been linking asbestos exposure to nonmalignant respiratory disease, such as asbestosis.2 By the time of World War II, asbestos use began to peak as it was used in naval shipyards in the construction of sea vessels. In the 1960s, two developments further strengthened the awareness of asbestos as a cause of lung diseases:

EPA Asbestos Program

Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986
The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) of 1986 (H.R. 5073) provided for “the establishment of Federal regulations which require inspection for asbestos-containing material and implementation of appropriate response the Nation's schools in a safe and complete manner."3

EPA begins technical assistance to schools and other building owners with Regional Asbestos Coordinators (RACs). Today, an average of 1,000-1,500 assistance contracts are performed monthly.

The Asbestos in Schools Identification and Notification Rule (ASINR) requires all primary and secondary schools to:

  • “inspect buildings for the presence of friable asbestos materials”
  • “sample and analyze materials found”
  • “maintain records of all findings”

If asbestos-containing material are found, an EPA office mandates schools must:

  • post notices
  • provide guidance to maintenance personnel
  • notify parents

The Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act (ASHAA) provided $600 million in federal loans/grants to schools with severe asbestos hazards.

Due to ASHAA, EPA issued $45 million in awards for 417 individual abatement projects in 340 schools.

Additional 421 projects valued at $47 million are awarded to 295 more schools.

Asbestos Today

Since the federal government’s regulation in the 1970's, asbestos use in America has waned. However, international regulation is not the same, and asbestos may be found more frequently in imports. Despite the federal restrictions and strong cultural/legal reasons for scaling back American asbestos use, it still is found in some domestic products. In fact, the government estimates that US manufacturing annually processes 2,200 metric tons of asbestos.4 Furthermore, according to the American Public Health Association’s “The Elimination of Asbestos,” (Resolution No. 20096, adopted November 2009) “an estimated 1.3 million construction and general industry workers in the United States potentially are exposed to asbestos each year, mainly from manipulation of asbestos during renovation or demolition activities.”

See related asbestos topics:


1 "Asbestos Information," Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation
2The Elimination of Asbestos,” American Public Health Association.
3 Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act
4 “The Elimination of Asbestos.” ibid.