U.S. Considering Total Ban on Asbestos

Many people might remember actor Steve McQueen for his eponymous role in the movie Bullitt, where he performed what is widely considered to be one of the greatest car-chase scenes of all time. Off screen, though, McQueen garnered a more tragic notoriety when - like countless others of his generation - died from mesothelioma. He was just 50 years old when the cancer, caused by exposure to asbestos, took his life.

Now, McQueen's widow, Barbara McQueen, is using the actor's legacy to try and convince federal lawmakers to finally ban the sale and use of asbestos in the United States.

In July, Mrs. McQueen spoke at a House of Representatives staff briefing in an effort to generate support for the Safer Chemicals Act of 2012. She participated in the event as part of a contingent representing the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.

Asbestos: Deadly, Yet Common

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring fibrous mineral. It has long been valued for its pliability and heat-resistant properties, and it was used as a fire retardant for decades. That utility, however, comes at a very steep price. Working with asbestos releases microscopic fibers into the air which, when inhaled into the lungs, can cause mesothelioma, a devastating and incurable type of cancer.

The World Health Organization classifies asbestos as a "serious carcinogen." Because of the extreme health risks surrounding asbestos use, the substance has been banned by every member of the European Union in recent years. The United States, however, has not followed suit.

In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency attempted to ban most uses of asbestos. Unfortunately, the agency's efforts were overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court allowed the EPA to ban both new and outdated uses of asbestos, but prohibited the agency from banning existing uses. It did so even though it recognized that "asbestos is a potential carcinogen at all levels of exposure."

As a result, dangerous asbestos fibers can be found in all sorts of consumer products. Some of the most common asbestos-containing products include insulation, roofing materials, gaskets, brake materials, furnace and pipe cement and heat-resistant clothing. In addition, because asbestos-containing products were once so widely used in the construction industry, many older buildings and homes contain asbestos that can be extremely harmful if it is disturbed during demolition or renovation.

Securing Justice for Mesothelioma Victims

It is still unclear whether the asbestos ban will be passed or if it will again fail to garner adequate support. Even if it does, mesothelioma will be a sad reality for many years to come. Mesothelioma has a very long latency period - often, the cancer does not appear until years or even decades after the initial exposure.

Because of this long gap between exposure and illness, many mesothelioma victims have a hard time identifying all potential sources of asbestos exposure. An experienced attorney can help in this regard. Attorneys who handle a significant number of asbestos cases have access to extensive databases of asbestos-containing products and the jobsites where they were used. By accessing this network, a skilled personal injury attorney can help mesothelioma victims secure compensation for the harm they have suffered.