Argentina’s Asbestos Anomaly 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Data collected by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) on the global asbestos trade is widely used. From time to time, however, there have been irregularities which have needed investigating. For example, last year it was reported that 5% of the asbestos imported and used in the United States in 2014 was chrysotile (white) asbestos sourced from Australia, a country which banned asbestos in 2003.1 After further investigation, the USGS obtained additional import data which confirmed that the asbestos did not, in fact, come from Australia.

For several years, the USGS has reported that Argentina, a country which adopted a resolution banning asbestos in 2001,2 produced small amounts of asbestos every year of the 21st century ranging from a high of 300 tonnes in 2006 and 2007 to a low of 100 tonnes in 2012-2014.3 Responding to a query about the situation, the USGS explained in an email received on January 13, 2016 that:

“Up until a few years ago, the country [Argentina] reported their asbestos production to us annually by way of a survey. I was told that they stopped reporting ‘recently’ but judging by our numbers it looks like they reported through 2012. Only the numbers for 2013 and 2014 are estimates. So while it is odd that they were reporting with a (nearly) full ban in place, most of the production figures after the ban were coming directly from Argentina rather than USGS estimates.”

Commenting on the anomaly earlier this month, a spokesman for Argentina’s Ministry of Health replied:

“I'm not sure why statistics with those values keep appearing. I don't know if it's a local problem and includes [production at] vermiculite and talc mines – supposedly all those deposits contain less than 1% asbestos according to lab results – or if it's a problem with U.S. statistics. Legally, asbestos is not used in or exported from the country.”

Although the USGS figures for Argentina’s asbestos production are, said one expert, “roughly consistent with about 1% or less contamination of the produced vermiculite and talc,” how a country with an asbestos ban can also be an asbestos producer remains unexplained. Perhaps statistics for 2015 will shed some light on this mystery?

January 18, 2016


1 Kazan-Allen L. Australia’s Asbestos Anomaly. February 12 (updated Feb. 19), 2015.

2 The 2001 ban asbestos resolution adopted by Argentina prohibited the production, import, marketing and use of chrysotile asbestos, the amphiboles had been banned in 2000. The use of asbestos-containing gaskets and brakes was allowed until 2003 and the use of asbestos-containing diaphragms in the chloralkali process at three factories was permitted until 2014.

3 The USGS figures for Argentina’s asbestos production during the 21st century are: 254t (tonnes) (2000), 203t (2001), 155t (2002), 166t (2003), 170t (2004), 290t (2005), 300t (2006), 300t (2007), 280t (2008), 290t (2009), 300t (2010), 105 (2011), 100t (2012), 100t (2013), 100t (2014).



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