Asbestos is a known carcinogen. It causes non-malignant diseases such as Asbestosis and Pleural disease and a variety of pulmonary and gastro-intestinal malignancies such as laryngeal cancer, esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Not only has the United States not banned the use of Asbestos, but according to the USGS Commodities Summary 2012, the amount of asbestos imported in the U.S. has actually increased in 2011. According to the summary, the United States imported 869 metric tons of asbestos in 2009, 1040 metric tons of asbestos in 2010, and 1100 metric tons of asbestos in 2011. Our primary or chief suppliers are Canada and Zimbabwe.
Asbestos has not been mined in the United States since 2002. The United States is; therefore, dependent on imports to meet manufacturing needs. Based on asbestos imports through July 2011, roofing products were estimated to account for about 60% of U.S. consumption; the chloralkali industry about 35%; and the remaining 5% has unknown applications.
The two most common roofing materials that typically contain asbestos are roofing shingles and roofing felt, but asbestos is also found in roofing products and compounds such as coatings, decking, flashing, underlayment, vapor retardants, caulking putties, adhesives, mastics, asphalt, cement, putty, stucco and various sealants. Asbestos is not only found in the roofing part of the construction industry. It became increasingly popular among manufacturers and builders in the late 19th century because of its sound absorption, average tensile strength, its resistance to fire, heat, electrical and chemical damage, and affordability. It was used in such applications as electrical insulation for hotplate wiring and in building insulation. When asbestos is used for its resistance to fire or heat, the fibers are often mixed with cement (resulting in fiber cement) or woven into fabric or mats.
According to the EPA, following are examples of where asbestos hazards may be found in your very own home:
- Some roofing and siding shingles are made of asbestos cement.
- Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may have asbestos as insulation.
- Attic and wall insulation produced using vermiculite ore, particularly ore that originated from a Libby, Montana mine, may contain asbestos fibers. Vermiculite was mined in Libby, Montana between 1923 and 1990. Prior to its close in 1990, much of the world’s supply of vermiculite came from the Libby mine. This mine had a natural deposit of asbestos which resulted in the vermiculite being contaminated with asbestos.
- Asbestos may be present in textured paint and in patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints. Their use was banned in 1977.
- Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces may contain asbestos.
- Older products such as stove-top pads may have some asbestos compounds.
- Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves may be protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets.
- Asbestos is found in some vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives.
- Hot water and steam pipes in older houses may be coated with an asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape.
- Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets may have asbestos insulation.
In accordance with Section 112 of the Clean Air Act (CAA), the EPA developed emission standards for hazardous air pollutants. The “National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants” (NESHAP) are the regulations created by the EPA governing the milling, manufacturing and fabricating operations, demolition and renovation activities, waste disposal issues, active and inactive waste disposal sites and asbestos conversion processes. But still, According to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, 125 million people are exposed to asbestos in the workplace around the world and more than 107,000 die each year from related illnesses. Regardless of the staggering statistics, with little consideration for the estimated 3000 individuals who will die of mesothelioma this year or the 104,000 people who will die from other asbestos related diseases, we not only continue to allow the hazardous product to be used, but our importation and consumption of Asbestos continues to rise.
Quebec’s Thetford Mines employed around 350 people in chrysotile asbestos production. Last year Canada exported around 100,000 tons of the toxic mineral, mainly to third world countries that lack proper control and have failed to implement the necessary safety regulations. However, on January 4, LAB Chrysotile, of Thetford Mines, Quebec, filed for bankruptcy, declaring an intention to re-structure and continue exporting Canadian asbestos, while the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos Quebec is currently inoperative as mine owners seek $25 million in private capital. Currently, for the first time in 130 years, no asbestos is being mined in Canada. Does that mean that the United States importation of asbestos will also come to a stop (or at a minimum decline as opposed to rise), or will we simply change suppliers? Russia, China Kazakhstan and Brazil are amongst the largest exporters of Asbestos in the world.