2019 has been filled with debate regarding government regulations of asbestos. The substance is the only cause of mesothelioma and is directly responsible for approximately 3,300 deaths in the United States each year.
While more than 60 countries have banned the mineral, the U.S. still allows for its commercial use. That fact has led to advocacy groups and even government agencies calling for a total ban — and pointing fingers directly at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The EPA, which is in charge of regulating asbestos, has claimed to implement more restrictions to protect Americans. That assertion leads to a question: How much asbestos has the U.S. imported recently?
While many countries are looking for alternatives, data from 2018 indicates the U.S. is unfortunately increasing its reliance on asbestos.
Asbestos Importation Numbers
The U.S. Geological Survey from the Department of the Interior has a chapter titled “Mineral Commodity Summaries.” This section shows data on “events, trends and issues for each mineral commodity as well as discussions and tabular presentations on domestic industry structure.”
According to the report, the U.S. imported 750 metric tons of asbestos in 2018. That amount more than doubles the number from 2017 (332 metric tons) and is the highest of the past five years:
- 2016 — 747 metric tons
- 2015 — 325 metric tons
- 2014 — 406 metric tons
The Mineral Commodity Summaries also states the U.S. consumed all 750 metric tons in 2018 — and consumed 100% of the imported asbestos in other listed years.
Asbestos Import Numbers Have Dropped Historically
While asbestos importation has increased since 2014, the U.S. has significantly decreased the volume in the past 45 years. In 1973, the country imported 803,000 tons. The 2015 figure of 325 tons was a record low.
“This decline has taken place as a result of health and liability issues associated with asbestos use,” the document states, “leading to the displacement of asbestos from traditional domestic markets by substitutes, alternative materials and new technology.”
Asbestos was relied on for most of the 20th century due to its fire-resistant characteristics. Construction and insulation companies used asbestos to protect anything — from entire buildings to home appliances — that could be flammable. Many manufacturers learned early in the century of the link between asbestos and cancer. However, they continued selling the product to businesses.
Once the general public learned of asbestos’ risks to their health, use of the mineral in many industries declined. However, it hasn’t declined enough.
Why the Recent Data Is Concerning
Asbestos importation data from 2018 shows use of the mineral isn’t going away anytime soon. Companies can continue importing asbestos with approval from the EPA. The agency enacted a rule recently that would require companies and importers to obtain permission before using the mineral again. If companies continue relying on asbestos, then there likely will be more mesothelioma cases in the future.
The apparent lack of concern from the EPA has led to lawmakers stepping up.
A proposed law currently in the House of Representatives would eventually ban the importation and use of asbestos. The Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2019 passed a committee vote in November and now moves to the House floor. If passed, the bill would move to the Senate.
Looking ahead to 2019, we at Mesothelioma Guide hope the importation of asbestos decreases, ultimately on its way to zeroes across the board. Recent data — specifically, the recent increase from 2017 to 2018 — indicates the only way to accomplish this is by an official ban of the mineral.
- Mineral Commodity Summaries 2019. U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved from: https://prd-wret.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/assets/palladium/production/atoms/files/mcs2019_all.pdf. Accessed: 12/04/19.
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