Every state is home to numerous job sites where asbestos was prevalent. The toxic mineral was widely used in industrial, commercial and domestic settings.
Mesothelioma incidence rates are higher in the northeast and northwest United States. Here, asbestos mining and processing were common throughout 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 asbestos deposits in many mountainous regions of Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming and California.
Other states synonymous with manufacturing and trade have high incidence rates of asbestos-related diseases. These states include New Jersey, Michigan and Texas. States with some of America’s largest shipyards saw high rates of asbestos exposure. Examples include 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 have used asbestos in some capacity for decades. Some states mined the toxic mineral. Others processed the fibers or used them as a fireproofing additive to various products. Asbestos is regulated today but has yet to be entirely banned.
More information on asbestos exposure can be found in the following U.S. regions and their corresponding states:
Asbestos Exposure in the Mid-Atlantic
Asbestos Exposure in the South
Asbestos Exposure in the Midwest
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. 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. The danger is exceptionally great if the naturally occurring asbestos has been commercially mined.
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 in the Sall Mountain region of Georgia. The mines produced anthophyllite asbestos. This type is also mined in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Amphibole asbestos was mined in Pennsylvania in the early 1900s. Chrysotile asbestos was mined on Belvidere Mountain in Vermont until 1993. This type has been the most frequent in commercial use.
Three chrysotile asbestos mines in Wyoming included the Fire King deposit, the Smith Creek deposit and the Casper Mountain deposit. This asbestos was used for chimney construction in 1920. It was shipped to flooring manufacturers in 1912.
Libby, Montana, was one of the most heavily asbestos-polluted cities in the nation. The town’s asbestos-contaminated vermiculite mine is the source of the pollution. The mine operated from 1919 to 1990.
More than 400 deaths in Libby are attributed to asbestos exposure. More than 1,750 town residents have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma.
The EPA added Libby to its National Priorities List in 2002. This sparked a 20-year, $600 million cleanup. In 2009, the EPA declared the town a public health emergency.
By 2018, the EPA announced the completion of a 3,000-site cleanup effort. The effort included businesses, yards and parks throughout the area.
In 2021, it finished restoration efforts covering all roads and highways in and between Libby and nearby Troy.
Another Montana site includes the Karst mine in southern Montana. Here, small amounts of anthophyllite asbestos were extracted in 1923 and 1928. Further extraction occurred between 1933 and 1935. Asbestos from this mine was used to make wall and ceiling insulation, roofing compound and insulation at oil refineries.
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 is home to dozens of asbestos deposits. A deposit of chrysotile in Sumas Mountain, located in Whatcom County, drains into the Sumas River. USGS tests from 2011 to 2013 revealed that chrysotile asbestos makes up 0.27% to 37% of the river’s sediment. The asbestos is so concentrated that the river runs white.
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 a large asbestos deposit. Air samples from 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. This site sits on one of the world’s largest naturally occurring asbestos deposits. 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. The mine is now a designated Superfund site by the EPA.
According to the USGS, the central part of the U.S. has fewer asbestos deposits than other regions. 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 many industrial and manufacturing facilities that place many workers at risk of asbestos exposure.
Examples of High-Risk Job Sites Across the US
- Construction sites
- Industrial sites
- Manufacturing facilities and mills
- Power generation plants
- Chemical plants
- 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 US
- 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.
- According to the Environmental Working Group Action Fund, asbestos kills 12,000 to 15,000 Americans yearly.
- According to the U.S. Geological Survey Mineral Commodity Summaries report, the U.S. imported 750 tons of raw asbestos in 2018. All of it was used by the chloralkali industry.
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.
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.
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. This insulation 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 chloralkali plants.
However, there are communities such as Libby and Ambler, Pennsylvania, that continue to deal with illness. Environmental contamination is present long after mines and asbestos factories closed.
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 are available. Examples include perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Many chloralkali plants in Europe have converted to safer methods to comply with asbestos bans in European countries.
US chloralkali plants are known to release asbestos into the environment. The following occurred between 2012 and 2015:
- A chloralkali 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.