industrial building

In the 1970s, the public in the United States began understanding the health risks associated with asbestos, which industry had known for almost 100 years.  Until the late 1970s, asbestos was used in countless products across the world. While we often associate asbestos exposure with old buildings, regulations didn’t necessarily stop the material use in new products

U.S. Asbestos Regulations

Government regulations began surrounding the material in the ‘70s, but the only complete ban, by the EPA in 1989, was overturned. In 2002, all U.S. asbestos mines officially closed, but Canadian, Russian, Chinese, and other mines still operate today. Asbestos use has significantly declined in the U.S., but even today, new asbestos still intentionally and unintentionally enters the production line. Asbestos is still found in its raw and imported form and is present in imported products.

Today’s Asbestos Imports

In 2019, The National Minerals Information Center released its most recent United States’ Asbestos Consumption Trends report. The report shows that 100 tons of asbestos come into the U.S. last year. The imports come from the top worldwide asbestos producer, Russia.

All the asbestos imports in 2019 went to the chlor-alkali industry. Production in this industry includes chlorine, sodium hydroxide, which is caustic soda, and hydrogen. Chlorine is used for medical devices, insulation and swimming pools. Caustic soda is in some foods, textiles, soaps and cleaning agents. And hydrogen is most significant in hydrogen peroxide and ammonia.

Other imported products containing asbestos are gaskets, brake blocks and friction products for vehicles.  More worrisome, asbestos is a common contaminant of talc, and therefore asbestos is found in most talc products.

If approved by the current administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we may unfortunately see asbestos used in more products soon.