Asbestos imports to the U.S. nearly doubled last year to 300 tons compared with the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Interior. The number represents a significant increase from the 172 tons of asbestos the country imported In 2019.
The statistics come from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Commodity Summaries 2021, an annual report that provides crucial information about the imports, production, recycling, and trends related to dozens of mineral products in the U.S. The fibers from asbestos cause mesothelioma, often-fatal cancer that claims the lives of an estimated 2,500 U.S. residents each year.
The country relies exclusively on imports
According to the report — released on Feb. 1, the U.S. has not produced asbestos since 2002. By then, international and domestic market demand declined due to the health concerns and liability issues connected to the mineral. The leading global products reliant on asbestos are corrugated roofing tiles, pipes and wall panels.
In addition, consumption of asbestos in the U.S. has shrunk significantly in the last few decades. The number reached a peak in 1973 with a record 803,000 tons consumed.
In the past half-decade since 2016, U.S. consumption was less than 800 tons in each of those years. The reason: Once again, the public and manufacturers became more aware of asbestos’s dangers and the liability that comes with its use.
Global consumption, too, has dwindled. The consumption of asbestos fiber shrank by half since 2010 with 2 million tons compared with 1 million tons in the last several years.
Mesothelioma remains a concern
For nearly 20 years, the U.S. has been reliant on asbestos imports. In 2020, all of the country’s imports came from Brazil. From 2016 to 2019, the U.S. relied on asbestos imports from only two countries: Brazil (86%) and Russia (14%). Russia, Kazakhstan, and China were the world’s top producers of asbestos in 2020.
The news that the U.S. almost doubled its imports of asbestos remains concerning. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they settle in the lungs and stomach, eventually leading to a mesothelioma diagnosis decades later and nearly certain death.
Statistics on the deaths should make industries and manufacturers more aware of the dangers attributed to asbestos. Tell that to the loved ones of construction workers, firefighters, machine operators, agricultural workers, and shipbuilders – the workers who typically have the highest chances of getting mesothelioma.