Imports of asbestos into the United States took a steep fall in 2021 – promising news – but are trending upwards so far in 2022.
Asbestos, a known carcinogen, can cause the rare cancer called mesothelioma and lung cancer, ovarian cancer and other diseases. The U.S. stopped mining for asbestos in 2002, but the country still imports chrysotile asbestos for the alkali industry. Most imports come from Brazil.
The U.S. only imported 100 metric tons of asbestos in 2021. This is a drop from the 300 imported in 2020 and even a dip from the 172 imported in 2019 (a previous low).
However, the U.S. has already imported 114 metric tons in just the first three months of 2022. This puts the country on pace to import more than 400 metric tons this year. This data is from the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.
History of Asbestos Imports in the U.S.
The amount imported has steadily decreased since the height of asbestos use in the 1970s. A few years after this time, the medical and science community made the general public aware of asbestos’ dangers to their health. Since then, companies have shifted away from using asbestos in products such as insulation material, roof tiles, floor tiles, siding, brake linings, electrical wires, military ships and aircraft, and more.
Some companies stopped using asbestos due to a flood of lawsuits. Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturing giant of health and beauty products with a focus on items for babies, faced legal issues when its Baby Powder had trace amounts of asbestos. Talc products may have asbestos due to cross contamination during mining.
Dating back to 2013, the annual amounts of asbestos imported into the U.S. are:
- 2022 (so far) – 114 metric tons
- 2021 – 100 metric tons
- 2020 – 300 metric tons
- 2019 – 172 metric tons
- 2018 – 681 metric tons
- 2017 – 332 metric tons
- 2016 – 747 metric tons
- 2015 – 325 metric tons
- 2014 – 406 metric tons
- 2013 – 775 metric tons
This data is according to the U.S. Geological Survey Mineral Commodity Summaries.
Ban of Chrysotile Asbestos Nearing
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced weeks ago its intention to ban chrysotile asbestos. This is the only type of asbestos imported into the country. The decision would be a major step towards curbing the use of asbestos and hopefully lead to an eradication of the mineral in society.
The ban would end imports – even for the chlor-alkali industry, which still uses the cancerous mineral – within two years. Chlor-alkali chemicals are used for water treatment. There are only 10 chlor-alkali plants in the U.S. still using asbestos diaphragms to produce chlorine and sodium hydroxide. The use of asbestos diaphragms has been steadily declining as well.
Asbestos is banned in more than 60 countries. The proposed ban does not outlaw other types of asbestos: amosite; crocidolite; tremolite; actinolite; and anthophyllite. None of these types are imported into the U.S or mined in the country.
Sources & Author
Mineral Commodity Summaries 2021. U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved from: https://pubs.usgs.gov/periodicals/mcs2021/mcs2021.pdf. Accessed: 02/09/2021.
Sources & Author