Epa staff objected to agency’s new rules on asbestos use, internal emails show – slashdot

Asbestos is a unique health threat. Unlike arsenic or radium, the physical shape of an asbestos specimen affects its toxicity. Large fibers and any amount of asbestos embedded in a matrix get filtered out in the nose and throat. Really small fibers don’t cause damage as they pass through the lining of the lungs and exit the body. Its the three to ten micron fibers that will kill you by turning your lungs into scar tissue.

BTW, I used to work in the asbestos removal industry and I have given training on the health effect of asbestos. For a few years, I worked as a lab tech determining if material was asbestos containing. We did low tech analysis where we verified that nothing existed in a sample that was of the correct morphology to be hazardous asbestos – in which case the customer could forego the expense of determining if it really was asbestos.


We did high tech analysis where we used an electron microscope to determine the exact crystal structure of an item under study to conclusively determine if it was or wasn’t asbestos.

Yeah not quite true. Asbestos was used in a lot of stuff, brakes for example. It was still mixed as a "semi-metallic" brake pad/shoes right up through to the late 90’s as well as the industry(automotive and truck) were weaning off of using asbestos. Pretty much anyone who was an apprentice during those times(they’d be in their very early 30’s to 40’s now) has a chance for it, we already knew it was an issue though so the idea was to limit breathing the dust by hosing down the brakes, drums, pads, shoes, with water before you started hammering away with a hammer to pull it all apart. These days? You’ll be lucky if your car brakes are anything but ceramic, it’s only the cheaper models that don’t use it. And semi-metallic pads don’t contain any asbestos after the phase out. But let me tell ya, I’ve got the tools, brochures, promotional materials, toolboxes, and all the rest from the 60’s,70’s, 80’s and 90’s on the benefits of using "genuine asbestos brake pads" made by lots of companies. Probably the best known aftermarket was raybestos and they manufactured pads and shoes that were pure asbestos based right up until 1989, which means those shoes and pads were probably still in the market until 2001 or 2003.

Asbestos pads, tape, paste, wrap, and such were used still in the 90’s as well in the collision industry too. Asbestos wrap was very popular with mechanics when you needed to heat up parts and hopefully avoid lighting the vehicle on fire, of course now the only real option you have is soaking shop rags in water and with luck that’ll get you through whatever you’re heating up. Also, lead used as a filler in body damage was used right up until the mid 1980’s for anyone who’s curious.

So basically the mesothelioma death rate (from all causes, not just asbestos related) went from 1.396 per 100,000 to 1.093 per 100,000 per year.. Or a reduction of 0.3 per 100,000 per year. That puts the benefit of banning asbestos at the very bottom of the list of causes of death [fivethirtyeight.com], even if you assume 100% of mesothelioma was caused by asbestos.

The money we spent banning and ripping out asbestos probably would’ve been much better spent on things like PSAs to buckle your seat belt, or suicide prevention hotlines. Those have a death rate nearly a hundred times higher than the reduction in mesothelioma death rate. Heck, fires kill 5.0 people per 100,000 each year [wikipedia.org], so it’s even possible that banning asbestos resulted in more people dying to fires than were saved from death by mesothelioma.

Based on this one paper, it would seem that banning asbestos was a vast overreaction. Given the tiny scale of the problem, it probably would’ve been better addressed by stricter regulations mandating masks and filters during the mining and processing of asbestos, and manufacture of products containing asbestos, rather than a widescale ban. Kinda like how disproportionate news coverage of airliner crashes has caused us to spend more on preventing airliner crashes, resulting in air travel being 86x safer than cars [fortune.com].