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

Quick Facts About Asbestos in Michigan
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Automobiles from Detroit are partially responsible for the high rate of asbestos-related diseases because several car parts contained asbestos before the 1990s.

Henry Ford founded the automobile industry in Detroit, Michigan. His other vital contribution to American work culture was assembly line manufacturing.

Asbestos was used to make:
  • Heat-resistant automobile parts
  • Transmission components
  • Clutches
  • Brake pads
  • Spark plugs
  • Electrical systems
  • Gaskets

Every year, more than 100 deaths in Michigan are attributed to toxic asbestos. National cancer statistics show the incidence of respiratory cancers in the state is 8% higher than the national average.

Occupations and Environmental Areas at Risk in Michigan

In Michigan, occupations such as pipefitters, mechanical engineers, electricians, school teachers, construction workers and assembly line personnel, are at an increased risk of developing asbestos-caused health conditions.

Asbestos exposure is linked to these other job sites in Michigan:

  • Auto factories
  • Industrial mills
  • Petroleum refineries
  • Hospitals
  • Chemical plants
  • Power plants
  • Schools
  • Vermiculite plants

Auto industry workers were exposed to numerous asbestos-containing components. These workers included assembly line employees and those building the parts. They were exposed to hazardous fibers and asbestos dust.

Asbestos has been found at facilities operated by:

  • Buick
  • Chevrolet
  • Ford
  • Plymouth
  • Oldsmobile
  • Cadillac
  • Chrysler
  • General Motors
  • Pontiac

Other industrial facilities that are linked to asbestos exposure:

  • Dow Chemical Company
  • General Mills
  • Post Cereal Company
  • Upjohn
  • Kellogg’s
  • Marathon Oil
  • Ralston Purina

Wayne, Macomb and Oakland Counties

Historically, the highest concentrations of mesothelioma and asbestosis cases in Michigan are located in the Detroit metropolitan area and the state’s most populous counties, including Wayne County, Oakland County and Macomb County.

These three counties reported more than 100 asbestos-related deaths in the 23 years from 1979-2001. Researchers believe this is underestimated, as the government did not record mesothelioma deaths until 1999.

President Bush Asked for Action

President George W. Bush participated in a 2005 town hall meeting about asbestos legislation in Clinton Township, Michigan. Bush, who hails from Texas, a state that has cracked down on mass torts related to asbestos, argued for Congress to pass national asbestos laws. Congress did not take any action related to asbestos.

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Asbestos Imports and Deposits

Naturally occurring asbestos deposits are found in five areas of Michigan, including Iron Mountain, Marquette, Negaunee, Niagara and Norway.

Large amounts of vermiculite contaminated with asbestos fibers also were brought into Michigan for processing. Data from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry shows that seven Michigan cities contained facilities that processed vermiculite and generated asbestos dust between 1948 and 1989.

The following cities processed asbestos-contaminated vermiculite ore from 1948 to 1989:

  • Dearborn
  • Grand Rapids
  • Reed City
  • Warren
  • Elsie
  • Milan
  • River Rouge

According to the Michigan Department of Community Health, the W.R. Grace Company, which owned a vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana, sent 163,000 tons of contaminated vermiculite to Michigan for processing. Grace filed for bankruptcy in 2001 after facing 250,000 asbestos lawsuits. It still generates an annual income of $2 billion.

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