Asbestos use is strictly regulated in the U.S., but the mineral has not been completely banned. Asbestos is still imported into the U.S., mainly from Canada, and many workers are still at risk of exposure during abatement and other construction projects on existing structures. According to a recent National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) report, miners and road construction workers also have a great risk of exposure, as well as communities exposed to asbestos through the environment.
This, along with more than 20 years of health research, has prompted Dr. Aubrey Miller, NIEHS Senior Medical Advisor, to call for an update to asbestos regulations which have not been amended since the mid-1980s. According to Miller, new research shows that much lower exposures to asbestos can cause disease.
During a March 23, 2013 keynote speech at the annual International Asbestos Awareness Conference in Washington, D.C., Dr. Miller contended that asbestos health standards have not kept up with science, and that new realities such as the risks from environmental exposures now confront the public. Environmental Science, a NIEHS News Publication reports that “researchers also found that the current methods being used to identify hazardous products, materials, or soils contaminated with asbestos, were not effective in protecting workers or the public from dangerous asbestos exposures.
In his speech, Dr. Miller also noted that “erionite-contaminated gravels were used in Dunn County, N.D., to pave more than 300 miles of roads, including 32 miles of school-bus routes. EPA testing of school buses driving on the gravel roads found elevated air levels of erionite, similar to towns in Turkey with high rates of mesothelioma.” Erionite is an asbestos-like mineral fiber and a powerful carcinogen. Current standards do not regulate erionite and other dangerous asbestos-like mineral fibers.
Dr. Miller closed his speech with the following suggestions for our government and regulatory bodies:
- Address unregulated materials, such as erionite
- Fund fundamental research to identify what is toxic about these materials
- Modernize techniques for sampling and analysis
- Push for lower exposure levels
- Test consumer products potentially contaminated with asbestos
- Update asbestos regulations, as soon as possible
On April 1, 2013, then U.S. Surgeon General Regina Marcia Benjamin, M.D., urged Americans to learn more about the dangers of asbestos exposure.
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), Environmental Science
Pamela Kidron, NIEHS office- Bethesda, MD