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Asbestos News

Researcher unspools history of U.S. asbestos use, restriction
The history of U.S. asbestos use might seem to date back to the early 1900s, when the Industrial Era allowed manufacturers to use the mineral for all sorts of fireproofing and insulation. However, one New York population health experts recently said that its use (and thus, occupational asbestos exposure) dates back at least 50 years further.

Hyun Kim, of the Hofstra North Shore-Long Island Jewish School of Medicine, said so at this year's International Congress on Occupational Health (ICOH).

He stated that the earliest industrial use of asbestos in the U.S. occurred in 1858, at the Johns' Company of New York.

Big asbestos, Big Apple

Kim is no stranger to New York-area asbestos exposure. In December 2011, he released a report estimating that, among 9/11 first responders in New York City, the rate of asthma was more than double the national average.

"This is the first study to directly quantify the magnitude of asthma among WTC responders," said Hyun Kim, who is also an epidemiologist.

In his new presentation, delivered at the ICOH conference in Cancun, Mexico, he listed off many "firsts" of industrial asbestos use and management in the U.S.

For instance, Kim explained that though American asbestos use began in earnest in 1858, it took more than 100 years for anyone to first seriously suggest banning or restricting it.

This is in spite of the fiber's known dangers. According to Barry Castleman's book Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects, at the turn of the 20th century, British civil servant and Lady Inspector of Factories Adelaide Anderson revealed a clear understanding that asbestos exposure caused some of the worst afflictions among textiles factory workers.

Yet it wasn't until the 1960s that a South African doctor, Chris Wagner, and later a New York physician, Irving J. Selikoff, posited a direct link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma.

After that, many more firsts

Kim noted that Wagner and Selikoff set off a firestorm of asbestos-restricting activity. The latter found the Division of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center.

He also helped establish the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) establish the first permissible exposure limit for asbestos - i.e. one and a half fibers per cubic centimeter (cc) per hour. OSHA has since lowered that limit threefold, to half a fiber per cc per hour.

Kim also noted a few other remarkable firsts:

1973 - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bans spray-on asbestos insulation.

1979 - The agency tries, and fails, to ban the fiber entirely.

1989 - Finally, the EPA enacts the asbestos "ban and phase out" rule, which would limit or eliminate 94 percent of asbestos-related products. Unfortunately, a Fifth Circuit Court ruling mitigated some of the strength of this rule, allowing asbestos to remain in limited use today, Kim concluded.

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