Although banned in scores of countries, asbestos is actually booming in the United States, the U.S. Geological Survey reports in a new study.
U.S. consumption of the fire-proofing, insulating fiber increased by 13% from 2010 to 2011, although the mineral is no longer even mined in the country, the USGS reports. The U.S. consumed 1,180 metric tons of asbestos in 2011, compared with 1,040 metric tons in 2010, according to the USGS’s new 2011 Minerals Yearbook.
U.S. Department of Labor
|Chrysotile was the only kind of asbestos used in the United States last year.|
Roofing products are the nation’s No. 1 end market for asbestos, accounting for 41% of consumption.
Bans and Warnings
Asbestos has not been mined in the United States since 2002; the country imports its supplies from Canada, Brazil and South Africa.
Chrysotile asbestos, the only type used in the United States in 2011, has been banned in the European Union, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and New Zealand. Canada also recently ceased mining of asbestos.
The mineral is classified as a known human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a rule banning most asbestos-containing materials, but the rule was overturned in 1991 in Corrosion Proof Fittings v. EPA. The ruling said, among other things, that the EPA had not sufficiently explored the safety of asbestos alternatives before issuing the ban.
The ruling leaves many products that can still legally contain trace amounts of asbestos. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates asbestos exposure in the workplace.
The USGS said the increase in U.S. consumption was likely due to the stockpiling of material for future use, because it was “unlikely that the markets had expanded.”
|The U.S. used 1,180 metric tons of asbestos in 2011; 1,040 metric tons, in 2010.|
In addition to roofing products, diaphragms for the chlor-alkali industry account for 28% of U.S. asbestos demand; coating and compounds, 2%, plastics, less than 1%; and other uses, about 29%, the USGS reported.
Much of the chrysotile for which no end use was specified was likely to have been used by the chlor-alkali industry in 2011, the USGS said, citing data reported by the United Business Media Global Trade.
“Chrysotile was the only type of asbestos used in the United States in 2011, 49% of which was grade 7, 16% was grade 5,12% was grade 4, and 23% was unspecified,” the report said.
Despite the increase in consumption, the report suggests that use of the fiber is likely to decline over time as the few remaining consuming industries slowly replace older asbestos-based technology or phase out its use.
However, world production remained at 2 million metric tons in 2011, due to continued demand.