Asbestos regulations in the UK are stringent nowadays – the use of asbestos materials was totally banned here in 1985 while second hand reuse, import and sales have been illegal since 1999.
Despite these strict control measures we are still seeing cases of asbestos related disease and these are on the increase as the time between first exposure to asbestos and contraction of the disease can range between 25 and 50 years. This means that we still have many years to wait before we see the eradication of asbestos related illnesses.
Although asbestos related disease was identified by the medical profession in the late 1920s, this substance continued to be used (primarily in the construction industry) for many years. In the United States of America the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule in 1989.
This was subsequently overturned leaving many consumer products that may still legally contain trace amounts of asbestos. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations regarding asbestos cover four categories of work:
Class 1 asbestos work refers to activities which involve the removal of thermal system insulation and surfacing asbestos containing materials (ACMs) and presumed asbestos containing materials (PACMs) which are defined by OSHA as being composed of 1% or more asbestos. PACMs are building and construction materials that are known to have been manufactured using asbestos (for example floor tiles or thermal insulation) and were installed before 1980.
Class 2 asbestos work covers activities involving the removal of ACM which is not thermal insulations or surfacing materials – this includes wallboard, floor tiles and sheeting, roofing and siding shingles and construction mastics.
Class 3 asbestos work means repair and maintenance operations where ACM (including thermal system insulations as well as surfacing ACM and PACM) is likely to be disturbed.
Class 4 asbestos work refers to maintenance and custodial work during which contractors or employees contact, but do not disturb ACM or PACM. This category also covers work cleaning up dust, waste and debris which result from Class 1, 2 and 3 work.
In Australia the use of crocidolite (blue) asbestos was banned back in 1967 while amosite (brown) asbestos continued to be used by the construction industry until the mid 1980s. Asbestos continues to present problems in Australia - indeed one town, Wittenoom in Western Australia, was built around a blue asbestos mine and the entire town is contaminated.
Many developed nations have banned the use of asbestos in new construction projects as part of health and safety legislation – this includes the European Union, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. However, the United States continues to allow asbestos use in construction such as cement asbestos pipes.
In developing nations the widespread use of asbestos continues unabated. The most common use is corrugated asbestos cement sheeting for roofing and walls. These sheets are generally cut to size on site and then holes are drilled as the sheets are secured in place. This means that asbestos will continue to present a health risk for many years to come.