Northern Georgia is a mineral-rich area with 17 former asbestos mines and 26 historical prospects. Nearly all natural asbestos in Georgia forms along the Appalachians. A vast majority of deposits are located in Rabun and White counties.
Other industries in Georgia also have ties to the toxic mineral. Several leading sectors used it extensively before it was recognized as a human carcinogen. It is now known to cause medical conditions like lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma.
U.S. military operations in Georgia had a $25 billion impact on the state economy in 2003. The military has a long history of exposing personnel to asbestos-contaminated buildings, weapons and vehicles.
Other leading industries in the state associated with asbestos exposure include power generation and manufacturing. Five locations throughout Georgia received at least 15 shipments of contaminated vermiculite ore mined in Libby, Montana.
Georgia’s asbestos laws have applied differently in certain asbestos-contaminated talcum powder lawsuits. For example, in July 2021, a Georgia appeals court ruled that the state’s 10-year statute of repose applies to an asbestos-contaminated talcum powder case.
Occupations and Environmental Areas at Risk in Georgia
Despite abundant natural asbestos occurrences in northern Georgia, this region’s low number of related deaths indicates that fatal exposure is far more common at the workplace. Because of the mineral’s excellent insulation properties, asbestos-containing materials were used to construct many older facilities. Exposure has been documented in federal buildings such as Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control and several of the state’s 13 military bases. Examples include Fort Stewart, Fort McPherson and Hunter Army Airfield. Ranking fifth in the nation for military employment, Georgia has military bases representing all service branches.
The state’s manufacturing industry employed 344,000 people in 2010. It accounted for 11% of Georgia’s gross domestic product (GDP) and is also known for exposing workers. In 1989, a Health Hazard Evaluation by the Centers for Disease Control found that Keebler Company workers in Atlanta may have inhaled the fibers from one of the plant’s ovens. Other areas of Georgia’s manufacturing sector, such as textile and paper product production, exposed workers to asbestos contained in aging machinery and equipment.
Natural asbestos forms in several locations throughout Georgia, with the highest concentrations in Rabun and White counties. The U.S. Geological Survey identified 52 sites within the state that contain the mineral. These sites include former asbestos mines, former prospects and reported occurrences. The Sall Mountain Region in White County features high-quality anthophyllite asbestos that was mined there for nearly a century by the Sall Mountain Asbestos Company. Excavation at the site began in 1894, making Sall Mountain Asbestos the first documented company in the U.S. to produce the mineral on a large scale.
Jobsites with Known Asbestos Exposure:
- Bowen Power Plant
- Keebler Company
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
- CSX Transportation Inc.
- Fort Stewart
- Fort Benning
- Fort McPherson
- Lawrenceville High School
- Thrash Prospect
- Asbestos Mining and Manufacturing Co.
- Reid Mine
- McCoy Mine
- Wallace Mill
- Jekyll Island Historical Power Plant
- Babcock-Wilcox Plant
- Tronox Inc.
- Hickory Lake Apartments
- Hunter Army Airfield
- Fort Gillem
- Amicalola State Park
- Sall Mountain Asbestos Company
- Laurel Creek Mine
- Hicks Asbestos Mine
- Bell Creek Mine
Several other locations along the Appalachian Mountain Range also contain deposits, specifically in the Blue Ridge and the Piedmont plateau region. The Piedmont region is home to Soapstone Ridge. This asbestos-rich area is located about eight miles south-southeast of Atlanta. If left alone, natural asbestos is mostly harmless. However, environmental exposure can occur if the deposits are disturbed and microscopic fibers are released into the air and inhaled.
Leading Counties with Mesothelioma
Cobb, Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties have the most mesothelioma incidences in Georgia. At least 27 Fulton County residents were diagnosed with mesothelioma between 1999 and 2008. Most could trace their exposures to asbestos back to Georgia-Pacific. Headquartered in Atlanta, this pulp and paper company has defended nearly 300,000 asbestos claims since the 1960s.
Dumping in State Park
In 2005, Georgia’s State Department of Natural Resources investigated an incident involving multiple piles of garbage. The waste included asbestos materials and was dumped illegally on the east side of Amicalola State Park. Dozens of trash heaps containing rusty barbecues, picnic tables and spools of wire were abandoned in the Atlanta park in 1999.
The 2005 investigation revealed that there were also contaminated ceiling tiles among the debris, which reportedly came from a restroom demolished in 1999. The disposal of asbestos is highly regulated in Georgia. The illegal dumping may have put park attendees at risk for a related disease. Amicalola hosted 900,000 visitors in 2003, making it one of Georgia’s most popular parks.
Asbestos Found at Old Farmers Market
In January 2019, the city of Columbus sought a $500,000 EPA Brownfields Cleanup Grant to remove hazardous materials, including asbestos, from the site of the former Georgia State Farmers Market. The city would use the grant money to clean up asbestos, lead paint and soil contaminated with petroleum. Local officials are holding public hearings for citizens to suggest ideas about what they would like to see developed at the site.
One of the world’s leading manufacturers of tissues, paper, packaging and construction products, Georgia-Pacific received much attention over the past few decades for exposing employees and consumers to harmful asbestos-containing materials. In 1965, the company acquired Bestwall Gypsum Corp., whose product line included a joint compound containing a small percentage of chrysotile asbestos.
Although Georgia-Pacific discontinued the manufacturing and sales of the compound in 1977, the aftermath of more than a decade of exposure resulted in cases of related diseases, countless deaths and hundreds of thousands of lawsuits against the company.