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The Current Extent of Asbestos Use and Import in the U.S.

by Gregory Andrews Cade on Jan. 14, 2017

Accident & Injury Asbestos & Mesothelioma 

Summary: It has been estimated that over 8.2 million pounds of asbestos were imported to the U.S. between 2006 and 2014. Additionally, numerous construction companies allow the use of asbestos-containing or asbestos-tainted products imported from China and India due to their low cost and accessibility.

The tremendous health risks associated with prolonged exposure to asbestos, such as pleural mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer, are well-known nowadays. Asbestos is recognized as a carcinogen by multiple government agencies, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has been relentlessly trying to raise awareness regarding the dangers of exposure since the 1970s. Although its use, import, and mining are completely banned in 55 countries, asbestos is still widely present in numerous industries in the U.S., posing a serious threat to the well-being of employees working with these minerals, as well as to public health.

Due to the practical properties of asbestos, such as resistance to heat and fire, durability, and inability to conduct electricity, it has been deemed an ideal raw material ever since ancient times. Over 5,000 different asbestos-containing products have been manufactured in the U.S. following the Industrial Revolution when the popularity of these toxic minerals began increasing. Insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, wall boards, gaskets, and cement are only a few of them. Asbestos was most commonly used in constructions, automotive industry, chemical plants, metal industries, and shipyards. According to OSHA, no level of exposure to asbestos is truly safe, although the permissible limit was set at 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter.

On July 12, 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established a rule aimed at entirely banning asbestos-containing products. However, in 1991, the regulation was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Consequently, the use of asbestos in the manufacturing of various products is still allowed, with the exception of new employments (for instance, the manufacturing of asbestos-containing building materials which were not first produced before 1989 is strictly forbidden).

Asbestos mining ceased in the U.S. with the closing of the last chrysotile mine in 2002, in California. Nevertheless, the amount of imported asbestos is astounding. It has been estimated that over 8.2 million pounds were imported to the U.S. between 2006 and 2014, most of it from Canada (approximately 90%). Additionally, numerous construction companies choose to turn a blind eye to asbestos-containing or asbestos-tainted products imported from China and India, two of the top 5 producers worldwide, due to their low cost and accessibility. Thus, materials labeled asbestos-free may often not be safe either. Poor regulations and negligence in regards to testing for asbestos also contribute to the increasing number of contaminated products which are annually allowed into the country. The majority of raw asbestos imports (over 7.6 million pounds) entered the U.S. through the ports of New Orleans and Houston. 

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, approximately 88% of the imported raw asbestos was used by the Chlor-alkali chemical industry for the manufacturing of diaphragms, which are employed in the production of chlorine and sodium hydroxide. The majority of asbestos-containing products imported to the U.S. were automobile brakes and roofing materials, while the imported asbestos waste mostly consisted in construction or demolition debris from U.S. territories or possessions in the Pacific or Caribbean.

It is worthy of note that the port records which provided the data mentioned above are far from being exhaustive in regards to the total amount of imported asbestos, as these documents do not include asbestos imported by air, rail or truck. Therefore, the amount of carcinogenic minerals which was brought in the U.S. within the last two decades is undoubtedly higher, endangering both the life of employees who work directly with asbestos and the health of people exposed to lower levels, as no concentration of asbestos is completely safe. Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. strongly recommends that if you suspect that you were exposed to asbestos you should contact an experienced asbestos and mesothelioma attorney.

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