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Will the US ban on importing asbestos help to accelerate the removal of the hazardous material from the UK's public buildings?

The United States has announced a ban on the only form of asbestos currently used or imported into the country. 

This decision comes several decades after most developed nations began phasing out the use of this cancer-causing material. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to ban asbestos over 30-years-ago, and it has already been banned by more than 50 countries. 

Asbestos is linked to approximately 40,000 deaths in the USA each year from lung cancer and mesothelioma to asbestosis and other cancers. Although its use has declined over the years, it is still present in millions of homes and buildings throughout the US.

In contrast, the UK passed a ban on asbestos 25-years-ago, in 1999. 

The US ban specifically applies to chrysotile asbestos, also known as "white asbestos," which is the only type imported for use in the country. Industries still using white asbestos will have up to 12 years to phase it out. 

However, the ban does not cover other types of asbestos, leading to concerns that companies may switch to using these alternative forms. Brenda Buck, a professor of medical geology, described the ban as a "baby step" and expressed fears that industries might now turn to other types of asbestos that have not yet been banned.

In the UK, our report reveals that more than 4,500 public buildings across 20 of the largest council areas by population still contain asbestos. This very hazardous substance has caused many individuals to be diagnosed with incurable cancer or chronic lung disease, such as asbestosis. 

In April 2022, a group of MPs recommended a 40-year deadline for the removal of asbestos from the estimated 300,000 public and commercial buildings that still contain it, but this recommendation was rejected by the UK government. 

We estimated that across the 387 local authorities in England, Scotland, and Wales combined, there were approximately 87,000 public buildings containing asbestos. The report also highlighted that the current rate of removal would only result in around 2,300 of the 4,500 affected buildings being asbestos-free within the next 40 years, necessitating a doubling of the removal process speed to meet the recommended deadline.

While the UK government has agreed to establish a central register of public buildings with asbestos, there has been no decision made regarding mandating the removal of this deadly material. Blue and brown asbestos (amphibole varieties) have been banned in the UK since 1985, and the ban was extended to include white asbestos in 1999 due to the health risks associated with inhalation exposure.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families affected by exposure to asbestos at our dedicated asbestos-related claims section.