Asbestos is a mineral that can cause many different types of diseases and cancers. Although it may sound like something that should have been banned a long time ago, there is actually an ongoing debate about whether or not asbestos should be fully banned or if it should still be allowed to be used in certain types of industries. There are many different arguments for multiple different sides, but in this article we will be focusing on the main two sides. These sides are the side that wants to get rid of all asbestos and the sides that want to be able to use it for just a few industries and products.
To start off, let’s get a little bit of history on asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral that has been used for construction and other things for thousands of years. There are actually many accounts in ancient Greece and Rome of asbestos being mined and used for multiple different things. All the way back then, though, they knew that asbestos was dangerous. A Greek historian actually wrote down that he had noticed that the people who worked in the asbestos mines seemed to die a lot earlier than the average Greek person. This was alarming to him, but they didn’t stop using the asbestos. The historian also noticed that the people who worked in the mines had a lot of respiratory issues. These issues included coughing fits and general wheezing. These are all symptoms that we see in today’s modern asbestos exposure cases. Since the Greeks never really stopped mining the asbestos, the tradition of using asbestos has continued into the 20th century, and still continues today. However, although asbestos has not been fully banned, it has been heavily regulated. After a surge in cases of mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases in the 60’s and 70’s, asbestos was starting to be regulated. Today, asbestos is only used in a few products and industries.
This leads us to the current debate amongst activists and the Environmental Protection Agency (the government agency that has jurisdiction over asbestos regulation). The majority of asbestos that is still used today is used in an industry called the chlor-alkali industry. As you can tell from the name, the chlor-alkali industry’s primary product is chlorine. Asbestos is used in this process. Since asbestos is fire retardant and heat resistant, it is used in a diaphragm that separates the chlorine and turns it into a usable product.
The chlor-alkali industry likes to argue that the asbestos that they use in the diaphragm poses little to no threat to their workers. The workers are always wearing enough protection to prevent them from inhaling any asbestos or coming into full contact with it, the chlor-alkali industry argues. They also state that they need this product in order for the industry to function properly.
On the hand, activists and the EPA argue that the workers are being unnecessarily exposed to a very harmful mineral. There are also a lot of environmental effects that come along with using the asbestos. The asbestos, when they are done fulfilling their purpose, are dumped into landfills, which leads to pollution of the environment and puts people in the surrounding areas in danger. Now, if the asbestos was truly vital to the chlor-alkali industry, there would be other ways to solve these problems outside of an outright ban. However, activists and the EPA argue that the chlor-alkali industry has other options that they could use that have been successfully implemented. Since there have been chlorine plants that have successfully used other alternatives to asbestos in the development of chlorine, the activists argue that the chlor-alkali industry should just make the full switch over to the non-asbestos diaphragms instead of putting people and the environment at risk.
Since there is a lot of information that backs up the side of the activists, it looks like the EPA may be approaching a full ban on the asbestos mineral. Hopefully, should this actually happen, the chlor-alkali industry will be able to make a full recovery. Since some plants have already phased out the use of asbestos in the production of chlorine, it may not be too hard for the chlor-alki industry to continue to function.