Asbestos Profile: United States
The United States was a major asbestos user and minor producer throughout the 20th century; between 1903 and 2000, total consumption was 31.5 million metric tonnes (MT) and production was 3.29 MT [USGS Circular]. The gap between consumption and production was bridged by imports; for much of the 20th century, the U.S. was the largest market for Canadian asbestos [Neighbors Trade Toxic Hazards]. In 1973, national consumption peaked at 803,000 tonnes/t a year; although there is no national asbestos ban [see: Political Action on Asbestos in North America and U.S. Moves to Ban Asbestos], usage has fallen dramatically and in the most recent year for which data is available, consumption was 4,650 t (2003).
The repercussions of widespread occupational and environmental exposures to asbestos have been horrific. Ten thousand Americans die every year from asbestos-related diseases and the national incidence of asbestos mortality is increasing [Death by Asbestos]. Groups representing asbestos victims have been active in the U.S. since the late 1970s and include the White Lung Association and the Asbestos Diseases Awareness Organization [see: Commentary on the Asbestos Diseases Awareness Organization and Annual U.S. Asbestos Conference]. The ADAO has been pivotal in efforts to steer the Ban Asbestos America Act through the U.S. Congress [Industry Fails to Derail U.S. Asbestos Bill and Annual Conference by U.S. Victims' Group].
Since Johns-Manville, the largest U.S. asbestos group, went into Chapter 11 administration, scores of other asbestos defendants have followed suit to avoid their asbestos liabilities; while many of these corporations prospered during their period in Chapter 11, their asbestos victims, many of whom died during the freeze on legal action, did not [Asbestos Litigation in the U.S.].
For over 20 years, the sourcebook on U.S. asbestos issues has been the work by Dr. Barry Castleman: Asbestos: Medical and Legal Issues, now in its 5th edition [see: The Question of Asbestos in the United States of America]. Paul Brodeur's books, including Outrageous Misconduct - the Asbestos Industry on Trial and Expendable Americans, are as fresh today as they were when they were first published; serious students of this subject would be well advised to try and track them down. The story of W.R.Grace's lethal contamination of Libby, Montana has been much-publicized in recent years; An Air that Kills by Andrew Schneider and David McCumber details the corporate negligence and government disinterest which permitted the lethal exposure to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite experienced by Grace's employees, their families, local residents and consumers throughout the U.S [Asbestos - The Truth and Good News, Bad News for Libby]. Visual images which illustrate the personal face of the U.S. asbestos scandal form the core of Bill Ravanesi's stunning exhibition: Breath Taken - The Landscape and Biography of Asbestos [See:Artist's Statement].
Updated September, 2009