Are There Viable Alternatives to Asbestos?

As time passes by, information regarding the dangers associated with asbestos becomes ever more ubiquitous. Historically, because so many hard-working Americans died or suffered horribly from mesothelioma associated with long-term exposure to asbestos, society could no longer ignore the problem. Mesothelioma victims hired lawyers and fought powerful corporations to hold wrongdoers accountable, and won important victories in the courtroom. Many corporations suffered serious financial repercussions, even bankruptcy. Both Oregon and the United States passed laws designed to protect workers. But even with this history of financial risk to corporations, and even as Americans continue to suffer from mesothelioma, asbestos is still in use in the United States. This leads many people to wonder if there are viable alternatives to asbestos.

Why Is Asbestos Popular in Industry?

First, asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral which is abundant and inexpensive. Second, asbestos has a number of qualities which make it extremely useful and popular in industry. Asbestos fibers can be processed in a way to create strong, flexible products which are resistant to both heat and chemicals. Unfortunately, if these asbestos fibers are released into the air and inhaled, they can cause harmful health effects.

Traditional Uses for Asbestos.

Due to the publicized litigation involving Johns-Manville and other companies, many people know that asbestos was traditionally used in insulation. However, it was also used in thousands of other products used in industry, ships, and in residential and commercial construction. Here are a few examples:

  • Brake pads
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Floor tiles
  • Construction joint compound
  • Boilers
  • Steam pipes
  • Furnaces
  • Roofing compound
  • Electric wire insulation
  • Gaskets
  • Fire blankets

The Early Search for Alternatives.

Sometimes, a helpful way to assess the present is to take a look at the past. Take, for example, this glimpse into the perspectives on the asbestos debate from 35 years ago. At that time, scientists were very pessimistic, essentially concluding that, despite years of intense research, viable alternatives did not exist. One expert cited in the article noted that all substitutes provided inferior performance at a higher cost. Ultimately, scientists and engineers concluded that no one substance could replace asbestos, but that different solutions might be needed for each type of product.

Today’s Alternatives

Today, the pessimistic scientists of yesteryear might be pleased to learn of the advances made in some areas. Below, we will give some examples of substances and compounds used in products today which have replaced the asbestos that was used in the past.

  • Fiberglass: Fiberglass is now widely used for insulation. It is heat resistant and considered safe. It does not have the same strength as asbestos, and therefore is not appropriate for some applications.
  • PBI Fiber: PBI (polybenzimidazole) fiber is used for personal protective equipment for workers exposed to high levels of heat, such as firemen and astronauts. It is flame resistant and effective in protecting the body from heat.
  • Polyurethane foam: This foam can be used in a number of applications, including roofing materials.
  • Flour fillers: As strange as it may sound, flour is made from natural products such as rice, wheat, and pecan shells, then used as a crack filler in construction applications.

Many other substitutes are used, such as cellulose fibers, plastics, and amorphous silica fabrics. One thing is clear - researchers were correct when they stated it would require many different substances to replace asbestos.

Call Us with Questions

Thankfully, important steps have been taken to reduce everyone’s exposure to asbestos. But it has not been banned, and still exists in many locations. If you or a loved one is exposed to asbestos, take precautions to protect yourself. If you believe you may have suffered harm as a result of the exposure, the experienced mesothelioma lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield will be happy to answer your questions and help you determine your rights.


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