Written by Matt Mauney | Scientifically Reviewed By Arti Shukla, Ph.D. | Edited By Walter Pacheco | Last Update: October 17, 2023

Quick Facts About Asbestos in Illinois
  • grey clipboard with plus sign icon
    Ranking in Deaths:
    7th
  • grey lungs icon
    Mesothelioma Deaths:
    2,390
  • silhouette of a head with three dots
    Asbestosis Deaths:
    13
  • grey triangle warning sign icon next to graph
    Total Deaths:
    2,403

Illinois is also home to 30 locations that received at least 372,776 tons of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite from Libby, Montana. The locations with facilities that processed the asbestos-tainted vermiculite include Chicago, Girard, Peoria, Quincy, Buda and Calumet City.

Asbestos continues to be a concern for Illinois. The Johns-Manville Superfund Site in Waukegan, for example, is a noted asbestos hazard by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Another source of toxic asbestos in Illinois can be found in old school buildings. With so much asbestos activity in the state, Madison County, Illinois, has become a national hotspot for asbestos litigation.

Other counties throughout the state see many asbestos cases as well. In November 2021, a Cook County jury awarded $23 million to Cynthia Cowger, who claimed she developed mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos-containing press pads used at the industrial laundry facility where she worked.

The press pads were manufactured by Qualitex Company, which demanded genetic sequencing of Cowger’s DNA before trial in an attempt to argue that a genetic mutation caused her cancer and not their product. The court rejected the request and said it was not based on accepted science.

Occupations and Environmental Areas at Risk in Illinois

While asbestos products were used in various industries throughout Illinois, those who worked in the state’s oil refineries and power plants have the highest risk of developing asbestos-related diseases. Major oil companies such as Amoco, CITGO, Mobil, Shell and Standard operated oil refineries in Illinois, and all have been named defendants in asbestos-related lawsuits.

Jobsites with Known Asbestos Exposure:

  • A.E. Staley Manufacturing Co. in Decatur
  • Baldwin Power Plant
  • Crawford Generating Station
  • Dearborn Rubber Corporation
  • Dresden Generating Station
  • Emerson Electric Facility
  • Fisk Generating Station
  • Freeman Coal Company in Farmsville
  • Illinois Beach State Park
  • Illinois Light & Power
  • Kautt & Bux Manufacturing in Mundelein
  • LTV Steel
  • Mobil
  • Pneumo Abex
  • Quad Cities Station
  • Amoco
  • Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant
  • Chicago Nuclear Powerhouse
  • CITGO
  • Dixie Square Mall in Harvey
  • Eureka Company in Bloomington
  • Grundy Industries, Inc. in Joliet
  • Illinois Central Railroad Companionship
  • Johns-Manville Corporation
  • Kentile Floors, Inc. in Chicago
  • Pittsburgh Plate Glass in Mt. Zion
  • Powerton Powerhouse
  • Quad Cities Station
  • Shell
  • Standard
  • Zion Nuclear Power Station
  • Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center

Power generation plants used asbestos-containing products primarily for their insulating capabilities. Power plants in Illinois where asbestos exposure may have occurred include Zion Nuclear Power Station, Powerton Powerhouse, Dresden Generating Station and Quad Cities Station.

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Illinois Beach State Park

While there are several Superfund Sites in Illinois with asbestos concerns, one in particular is the Johns-Manville site in Waukegan, Illinois. This 150-acre disposal area has approximately three million cubic yards of wastewater sludge containing asbestos and other toxins.

Lake Michigan and Illinois Beach State Park border the site. Studies have indicated that airborne asbestos is the greatest potential risk. Johns-Manville ceased operations at the site in 1998. Asbestos hazards are still being addressed.

Asbestos-Containing Superfund Site in Illinois

Between 1974 and the early 1990s, the former W.R. Grace & Company facility in West Chicago processed more than 273,000 tons of asbestos-containing vermiculite shipped from Libby, Montana. Those who worked at the plant were exposed to hazardous levels of asbestos fibers and are at high risk of developing diseases related to asbestos exposure.

W.R. Grace stopped operations at the West Chicago plant in 1996. In 2003, the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry reported tests conducted by the EPA detected trace amounts of Libby asbestos in the soil surrounding the plant.

Asbestos in Illinois Schools

Many of Illinois’s schools and administrative buildings were constructed with asbestos. Disease risk depends on when the asbestos was discovered and how each facility handled the problem.

Anyone who attended the following school locations may be at risk for an asbestos-related disease:

  • Magnolia School – Maple and Monroe St.
  • Newman School – 708 N. Broadway
  • Milton School – S. Mill St.
  • Thebes School – 7th and Oak streets
  • Cairo/Lincoln School – 29th St.

Teachers and other employees or students who attended these schools may be at risk for an asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma. As these buildings age, the risk for asbestos exposure increases and old asbestos products present the hazard of releasing fibers into the air.

A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company in Decatur, Illinois

In 1989, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) received a request from the Allied Industrial Workers of America International Union, Local 837, to evaluate asbestos hazards at A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company’s facility. The company’s medical monitoring program did not detail any concern for asbestos-related diseases.

The union was worried about potential weaknesses in their reporting because medical testing outside the company’s medical monitoring program suggested otherwise. For instance, several cases of asbestosis were reported, and one employee died from pleural mesothelioma. These findings led the union to ask for assistance from NIOSH in evaluating the effectiveness of Staley Manufacturing Company’s monitoring program.

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