Asbestos Profile: United States 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



(Updated May 2018)

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 1,560 t (2012). Throughout the 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency progressed plans to ban asbestos use; these plans were opposed by asbestos vested interests from Canada and the U.S. who, eventually, succeeded in overturning the proposed prohibitions [October 18, 2011: A Bloody Anniversary!]

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, the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF) and the Asbestos Diseases Awareness Organization.

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.]. U.S. asbestos defendants have worked assiduously to develop new strategies for defending themselves from asbestos lawsuits [Litigation-Driven Research – Deposition of Georgia-Pacific Executive]. Despite the millions spent to commission research, US juries often reject defendants’ “scientific evidence.” A classic example of this took place in New Jersey when a jury awarded mesothelioma plaintiff Stephen Lanzo and his wife Kendra $37 million in damages on April 5, 2018; one week later, the jury ordered the two defendants to pay a further $80 million in punitive damages.[Toxic Talc and Mesothelioma].

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 May 2018



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