Asbestos Exposure Risks by State

Fact Checked

Certain states are known for high rates of asbestos exposure and asbestos-related deaths. Some heavily affected states, including Pennsylvania, California and Washington, have high rates of exposure. Asbestos-related deaths in those states extend into the thousands.

Every state is home to numerous job sites where asbestos was prevalent because the toxic mineral was widely used in industrial, commercial and domestic settings.

Mesothelioma incidence rates are higher in states in the northeast and northwest United States, where asbestos mining and processing was common throughout much of the 20th century. Mining towns such as Libby, Montana, and Ambler, Pennsylvania, continue to deal with the deadly legacy of the asbestos industry.

States in the West are also a hotbed for environmental asbestos exposure, with naturally occurring deposits of asbestos in many of the mountainous regions of Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming and California.

Other states synonymous with manufacturing and trade have high incidence rates of asbestos-related diseases, including New Jersey, Michigan and Texas. States with some of America’s largest shipyards saw high rates of asbestos exposure, including California, New York and Louisiana.

Learn More About Asbestos Exposure in Your State

Asbestos Exposure Across US Regions and States

Industries in every U.S. state used asbestos in some capacity for decades. Some states mined the toxic mineral. Others processed the fibers or used it as a fireproofing additive to a variety of products. Asbestos is regulated today, but not fully banned.

More information on asbestos exposure can be found in the following U.S. regions and their corresponding states:

Asbestos Exposure in New England

Asbestos Exposure in the Mid-Atlantic

Asbestos Exposure in the South

Asbestos Exposure in the Midwest

Asbestos Exposure in the Southwest

Asbestos Exposure in the West

Exposure to Naturally Occurring Asbestos in the US

Naturally occurring asbestos deposits are located across the U.S.

Hilly, mountainous ranges can contain asbestos deposits, and any area with large concentrations of host rocks, such as serpentine, may be laced with asbestos. Residents that live near deposits face an elevated risk of asbestos exposure, especially if the naturally occurring asbestos was commercially mined.

East

According to the United States Geological Survey, 60 asbestos mines were once in operation throughout the eastern U.S.

These mines varied in size and were active at different times. The first asbestos mining operation began in 1894 at the Sall Mountain region of Georgia. The mines produced anthophyllite asbestos, which was also mined in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Amphibole asbestos was mined in Pennsylvania in the early 1900s. Chrysotile asbestos, recognized as the most commercially used type of the mineral, was mined on Belvidere Mountain in Vermont until 1993.

West

Wyoming

Three chrysotile asbestos mines in Wyoming included the Fire King deposit, the Smith Creek deposit and the Casper Mountain deposit. The asbestos was used for chimney construction in 1920 and was shipped to flooring manufacturers in 1912.

Montana

Libby, Montana, was one of the most heavily asbestos-polluted cities in the nation. The town’s asbestos-contaminated vermiculite mine — operated from 1919 to 1990 — is the source of the pollution.

More than 400 deaths in Libby are attributed to asbestos exposure, and more than 1,750 town residents have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, including mesothelioma.

The EPA added Libby to the National Priorities List in 2002, and in 2009 declared the town a Public Health Emergency. After nearly 20 years, the EPA’s cleanup efforts concluded in 2018.

Another Montana site includes the Karst mine in southern Montana, where small amounts of anthophyllite asbestos were extracted in 1923, 1928 and from 1933-1935. Asbestos from this mine was used to make wall and ceiling insulation, roofing compound and insulation at oil refineries.

Idaho

The Rocky Mountains are home to several small asbestos deposits. Five areas were mined for asbestos. One site, the Kamiah anthophyllite deposit in Idaho, operated from 1909 to 1925. Asbestos from this mine was used to make pipe insulation, boiler covers, wall plaster and paint. It was also used as a binding agent in cement and asphalt.

Washington

Washington is home to dozens of asbestos deposits. A deposit of chrysotile in Sumas Mountain, located in Whatcom County, drains into the Sumas River. The asbestos is so concentrated that the river runs white. USGS tests from 2011 to 2013 revealed chrysotile asbestos makes up 0.27% to 37% of the river’s sediment.

California

California has many naturally occurring sources of asbestos because serpentine rock, from which chrysotile originates, is common in the state.

Experts are watching El Dorado County in Northern California, a community built on top of a large asbestos deposit. Air samples gathered by the EPA in 2004 raised concerns about exposure from stirred up dirt in county parks.

Another site for concern in California is the Clear Creek Management Area, which sits on one of the largest naturally occurring asbestos deposits in the world. This 31,000-acre serpentine deposit is frequently visited by thousands of off-road motorcyclists, hikers and campers each year. The Clear Creek Management Area was once home to the Atlas Asbestos Mine, which is now a designated Superfund site by the EPA.

Central

The central part of the U.S. has fewer asbestos deposits compared with other regions, according to the USGS. Although 26 natural asbestos occurrences are documented, only five sites in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma were evaluated for mining or commercial production.

Occupational Exposure in States

Some states, such as Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Illinois and West Virginia, are home to a high number of industrial and manufacturing facilities that places many of its workers at risk of asbestos exposure.

Examples of High-Risk Job Sites Across the US

  • Construction sites
  • Industrial sites
  • Manufacturing facilities and mills
  • Shipyards
  • Power generation plants
  • Chemical plants
  • Refineries
  • Mines
  • Auto repair shops

Shipyards were also sources of frequent exposure. States featuring big shipyards include California, Washington, Texas, Louisiana, Virginia, Massachusetts and New York.

Refineries were another source of dangerous exposure. Many of them are located in Texas and Louisiana.

Facts About Asbestos Exposure in the U.S.

  • More than 100 million Americans have been exposed to asbestos, according to a report from the American Academy of Actuaries.
  • Every year, 1.3 million American workers in construction and general industry alone are exposed to asbestos on the job, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
  • Asbestos kills 12,000 to 15,000 Americans each year, according to the Environmental Working Group Action Fund.
  • The U.S. imported 750 tons of raw asbestos in 2018, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Mineral Commodity Summaries report. All of it was used by the chlor-alkali industry.
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Environmental Exposure in the US

When people are exposed to asbestos in urban settings, state health officials call it environmental exposure. This kind of exposure can happen in public buildings and neighborhoods near facilities that processed or used asbestos.

Public Buildings

In the mid-1980s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated 20% of state and local public buildings in the U.S. contained friable asbestos materials.

Friable means the asbestos is damaged and may become easily airborne. In 1989, New York City estimated 68% of existing buildings contain asbestos and 81% of that was friable.

In 1984, the EPA performed an assessment of asbestos in public schools. They determined more than 8,500 schools contain friable asbestos. The agency estimated more than 3 million children were at risk of exposure at the time.

A 2015 report commissioned by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) shows that more than two-thirds of local education agencies surveyed said their schools contain asbestos.

News reports of asbestos in schools reveal a nationwide problem. For example:

  • Contractors at Mira Costa School in California allegedly disturbed asbestos tiles in the library while students and parents were registering for the 2018 school year. The Manhattan Beach Unified School District was cited with 27 violations for the negligent work.
  • A 2018 investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer revealed alarming levels of asbestos in seven elementary schools within the School District of Philadelphia.
  • In 2016, a study from the EWG Action Fund showed only 11 of 184 public schools in Chicago complied with asbestos risk assessments and recommendations.

Neighborhood Exposure Near Asbestos Facilities

Elevated rates of asbestos-related diseases are widely documented in neighborhoods around facilities that processed asbestos ore or used asbestos in manufacturing.

The EPA identified 262 sites in 40 states that received shipments of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite ore from Libby, Montana. A number of these sites were exfoliation facilities, which posed a higher risk of environmental exposure than facilities that only stored ore. The exfoliation process expanded the vermiculite and caused asbestos fibers to become airborne.

While Vermont received only two shipments (the fewest of all states), California and Texas received millions of tons of vermiculite. Some of the vermiculite was used to make Zonolite insulation, which found its way into an estimated 35 million homes across the country.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry studied 70 of these sites in 23 states. The agency reported elevated rates of pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma around the neighborhoods of 17 sites.

This kind of exposure is far less common today than in the past. The primary source of this kind of exposure in the U.S. today is chlor-alkali plants.

However, there are communities such as Libby and Ambler, Pennsylvania, that continue to deal with illness and environmental contamination long after mines and asbestos factories closed.

Chlor-Alkali Plants

The chlor-alkali industry uses nearly all of the asbestos imported into the U.S. in recent years to manufacture chlorine, caustic soda and hydrogen. Asbestos is incorporated into filtration membranes in the production of these chemicals.

Safer options than asbestos membranes, such as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are available. Many chlor-alkali plants in Europe have converted to safer methods to comply with asbestos bans in European countries.

U.S. chlor-alkali plants are known to release asbestos into the environment. The following occurred between 2012 and 2015:

  • A chlor-alkali plant in Ingleside, Texas, released 80 pounds of asbestos into the air. It was more than all other U.S. chlor-alkali plants combined.
  • A plant in Convent, Louisiana, released 3 pounds of asbestos into the air and dumped 23 pounds of asbestos into landfills.
  • A plant in Taft, Louisiana, dumped 40,492 pounds of asbestos into landfills.
  • A plant in Plaquemine, Louisiana, imported 1.3 million pounds of asbestos. Between 1987 and 2015, the plant dumped 9.2 million pounds of asbestos into an on-site landfill.
  • A plant in Deer Park, Texas, dumped 123,049 pounds of asbestos into a Houston landfill.
  • A plant in La Porte, Texas, dumped 11,010 pounds of asbestos into landfills.
  • A plant in Proctor, West Virginia, dumped 77,472 pounds of asbestos into landfills.

The following chlor-alkali plants continue to use asbestos diaphragms:

  • OxyChem in Niagara Falls, New York
  • Westlake-Natrium in Proctor, West Virginia
  • Olin in McIntosh, Alabama
  • OxyChem in Convent, Louisiana
  • OxyChem in Taft, Louisiana
  • Olin in Plaquemine, Louisiana
  • Westlake in Plaquemine, Louisiana
  • OxyChem in Wichita, Kansas
  • OxyChem in Deer Park, Texas
  • OxyChem in Ingleside, Texas
  • OxyVinyls in La Porte, Texas
  • Olin in Freeport, Texas

The OxyChemo plant in Geismar, Louisiana, used asbestos diaphragms until 1993.

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Asbestos Lawsuits in the United States

More than 4,000 asbestos-related lawsuits were filed in 2018, according a litigation report from KCIC, an independent consulting firm. Roughly half of those were mesothelioma claims.

About one-fourth of the asbestos claims and almost 50% of the mesothelioma lawsuits were filed in Madison County, Illinois, which has long been the epicenter for asbestos litigation.

Only 47% of claims were filed in the plaintiff’s state of residency. Texans represented 7.2% of Illinois filings in 2018, while Illinois residents accounted for only 7%.

The vast majority of residents of Florida, Texas and Arkansas file out of state. Residents of Illinois, Maryland and New York tend to file in-state more often than residents of other states.

Aside from Madison County, other Illinois jurisdictions with high numbers of filings include St. Clair County and Cook County.

Other states with high volumes of asbestos-related filings include New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Missouri. A qualified attorney experienced in asbestos litigation can answer your legal questions and determine where you are eligible to file a claim.

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Writer

Daniel King joined Asbestos.com in 2017. He comes from a military family and attended high school on an Air Force base in Japan, so he feels a close connection to veterans, military families and the many hardships they face. As an investigative writer with interests in mesothelioma research and environmental issues, he seeks to educate others about the dangers of asbestos exposure to protect them from the deadly carcinogen. Daniel holds several certificates in health writing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and he is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.

Walter Pacheco, Managing Editor at Asbestos.com
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Last Modified September 9, 2019

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