Manufacturers and Distributors Fail to Warn Against the Hazards of Asbestos
Even though the dangers of asbestos were well-known and documented in the medical and scientific communities by the 1930s, asbestos-containing products were still manufactured and used in construction and in a variety of industries up until the late 1970s. The joint compound industry was no different. Manufacturers of asbestos-containing joint compound understood that their products had the potential to cause mesothelioma and lung cancer by mixing, sanding and clean-up of their product.
Because of the potential to collect enormous profits by manufacturing and distributing asbestos-containing joint compound, numerous manufacturers continued to incorporate asbestos into their products even though they were well aware of the health dangers these products posed. These same companies failed to place appropriate warning labels on their joint compound products, because they were confident that the illnesses caused by exposure to asbestos would develop long after workers were exposed, and that in turn caused them to believe they would never be held responsible.
NIOSH and OSHA
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 created two new government agencies designed to protect the workers of America; the National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH) and Health and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, commonly known as NIOSH, is a branch of Public Health Service and is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States government. NIOSH was formed to conduct research in the field of disease and injury; and, based on its findings, make industry recommendations. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is a division of the Department of Labor, and was formed to regulate workplace standards and policies based on NIOSH recommendations. Together, the two agencies recognize and solve potential work-related health issues.
Without it being a regulatory function, NIOSH was given responsibility to go into the work place at the request of workers to assist them in solving occupational safety and health problems that they may encounter. NIOSH immediately began to conduct research studies focused on asbestos exposure. The conclusive evidence, asbestos causes cancer. NIOSH's formal recommendations were made in 1972, when OSHA passed its first standard (recommended levels of asbestos exposure) at five fibers per cubic centimeter. This standard set a limit on permissible exposure, specifying safety practices and protections for employees handling these products. OSHA also required that all manufacturers and distributors of asbestos-containing materials apply warning labels to their products. On July 1, 1976, OSHA reduced the permissible exposure to two fibers per cc, based on NIOSH recommendations. In 1986, the standard was reduced again to 0.2 fibers per cc, and then in 1994, the standard was lowered to the current concentration of .1 fibers per cc.
On April 17, 1980, OSHA held a press conference to address growing concerns over asbestos and its potential to cause deadly diseases, including mesothelioma and lung cancer. This conference was centered on a committee of OSHA and NIOSH scientists to evaluate the occupational safety and health standard for asbestos, and to make recommendations to increase the protection of workers from asbestos exposure. At this press conference, it was formally stated that there is no safe level of exposure, and that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile fibers found in drywall joint compound, can and do cause cancer and lung disease.
For more information on NIOSH and its position on asbestos visit the NIOSH website.
Environmental Protection Agency
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted its own studies on asbestos exposure. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to list all hazardous air pollutants and publicize emissions limits. In 1971, asbestos was added to this list of hazardous air pollutants. By 1973, the emission standard was set, and throughout the 1970's, into the 1980's, the EPA continued to research and issue regulations regarding asbestos exposure. By 1986, asbestos was declared to pose an unreasonable health risk to humans and the EPA began placing prohibitions on the use and distribution of asbestos-containing products.
For more information regarding the EPA and its position on the use of asbestos, visit:
For more information regarding asbestos in the home, public buildings and schools, visit:
Consumer Product Safety Commission
The Consumer Product Safety Act of 1972 created an independent agency of the United States Government, named the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC is intended to protect against injury and disease related to consumer products. In 1977, the CPSC banned the use and sale of asbestos-containing joint compound stating, "The Commission believes that certain types of cancer may result from inhaling free-form asbestos fibers released into the air during the use of these products [joint compound and asbestos fire ash]."
For more information regarding the CPSC and its position on asbestos containing joint compound, visit:
- 1977 Press Release of Proposal to Ban Asbestos Joint Compound
- 1977 Press Release Announcing Ban On Asbestos Joint Compound
Since the early 1970s, the U.S. government has been involved in the research and regulation of asbestos-containing products. Currently, several national, scientific and health-related organizations agree that all forms of asbestos, including, actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, crocidolite and chrysotile can cause cancer and lung disease. Only forty countries worldwide have altogether banned the use of asbestos-containing products.