Missouri’s economy is historically driven by industrial work that used asbestos. Industries used it for its resistance to heat, chemicals and electricity.
Miners also experience considerable exposure risks when excavating or handling asbestos-contaminated mineral ore. The inhalation of airborne asbestos fibers causes asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
A longtime fixture in St. Louis, Missouri, is the automobile industry. It exposed assembly plant workers to asbestos contained in brakes and clutches.
Most cases of asbestos-related disease connect to workplace exposure. Missourians encounter natural asbestos that forms along the St. Francois Mountain Range.
In November 2021, a whistleblower made a report about asbestos contamination at Goodfellow Federal Center. Located north of St. Louis, the center was constructed in the 1940s. It was an Army ammunition plant to support World War II, and it was renovated into an office park in the 1960s. Local officials were aware of the contamination but downplayed the risks.
Occupations and Environmental Areas at Risk in Missouri
Missouri’s chemical, manufacturing and mining industries used asbestos. These industries have a history of workplace asbestos exposure in the state.
GAF Corporation faced decades of asbestos lawsuits after acquiring Ruberoid Corporation in 1965. Ruberoid operated a manufacturing plant in St. Louis. It used asbestos to make roofing products. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health tested the facility in 1967 and 1969. They found dangerous concentrations of asbestos present in air samples.
The purchase of this roofing supplies manufacturer included ownership of an asbestos mine in Vermont. Workers there developed medical conditions caused by asbestos exposure. As a result, the mine shut down less than a decade later in 1975.
Not far from the GAF plant was a CertainTeed plant that manufactured asbestos-cement pipe. Both plants used chrysotile asbestos. The CertainTeed plant also used crocidolite. Also known as blue asbestos, it is more dangerous than chrysotile.
Confidential memos dating back to 1964 indicated CertainTeed knew there was a problem. It was aware of neighborhood cases of asbestos disease near its St. Louis plant. In 1973, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a fine to CertainTeed for the way it handled asbestos waste.
Both the GAF and CertainTeed dumped their asbestos waste along the banks of Maline Creek. When the CertainTeed plant closed in 1979, soil was placed on top of the asbestos waste areas and deemed not a threat to the community. Broken asbestos pipes and other waste remained along the banks of Maline Creek. Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources determined in 1980 that it would be just as well to leave it alone.
In 1982, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District attempted to clean the creek bank. They stopped shortly after beginning because they realized the cost was too extensive. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hired a company to assess the site in 1992. Testing of exposed material revealed it contained upwards of 85% chrysotile and 15% crocidolite. In 1993, Maline Creek flooded and overran the asbestos waste pile. It distributed asbestos-contaminated debris throughout the flood zone.
By 1995, Maline Creek was considered for EPA Superfund designation. This prompted GAF and CertainTeed to enroll in a state-run cleanup program. Avoiding Superfund status would save them money long-term. The cleanup was finished in 2001, but the location of the asbestos waste remains in the creek’s floodplain, which could pose a threat in the future.
Exposure to asbestos has also threatened the health of workers at Missouri municipal buildings. Poor asbestos management during renovations leads to exposure. In November 2011, a Jackson County Courthouse employee received a $10 million settlement in a lawsuit filed over improper asbestos handling procedures.
Hickory Hills School in Springfield may have been another site of asbestos exposure. An environmental assessment revealed 35 different construction materials in the school with asbestos. Violations of federal asbestos laws occurred at Lambert St. Louis International Airport.
Natural Asbestos Deposits
Some locations in southeastern Missouri contain natural deposits of asbestos. The fibrous mineral is relatively scarce in the state. Nearly all asbestos deposits in Missouri form along the St. Francois Mountains.
The highest asbestos concentrations are in St. Francois County and adjacent Iron County. Several former mines in this area contain documented asbestos occurrences. Mining activity can disrupt the deposits and release dangerous fibers into the air. This can pose health threats to miners as well as surrounding populations.
Job Sites with Known Asbestos Exposure:
- Weldon Spring Quarry
- A.W. Chesterton Co.
- Ruberoid Corporation (G.A.F. Corporation)
- CertainTeed Corporation
- Citadel Plaza Redevelopment Site
- Unnamed prospect, Middlebrook
- The Armour Road Site
- Leeds Industrial Park, Inc.
- Zonolite/W.R. Grace Facility
- Jackson County Courthouse
- U.S. Post Office, 2002 Congressional Dr.
- Fire District Building
- St. Louis Lambert International Airport
- Paseo YMCA
- The Carter Carburetor Site
- Iron Mountain Mine
- Thorny Mountain Mine
- Fort Leonard Wood
- Ketcherside Gap
- General Motors Truck Assembly Plant
- Chrysler Corp. Assembly Plant
- Ford Motor Co. St. Louis Assembly Plant
- St. Louis Shipbuilding & Steel Co.
- Anheuser-Busch Brewery
- Union Electric Company
- Kansas City Power & Light
- Armco Steel Plant
- Standard Oil Refinery
Joplin Tornado and Asbestos Concerns
A tornado with winds exceeding 200 miles per hour touched down in Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011. It destroyed approximately 8,000 structures and claimed the lives of more than 150 residents. The EPA was particularly concerned about asbestos exposure for any workers involved in the cleanup.
The City of Joplin ordered the demolition of 118 heavily damaged homes whose owners failed to contact the city with plans to clear out the remaining debris. Before the city condemned the houses and hired a contractor to safely raze them, certified asbestos inspectors were hired to report any asbestos found on site.
Illegal Asbestos Disposal at Missouri Firehouse
In 2010, impeachment charges were filed against Fire Chief Tim Carter for fraud, dishonesty and inability to follow orders in regards to illegal asbestos abatement procedures at his Hannibal, Missouri fire district building. Although Carter refuted the charges and told the Missouri Department of Natural Resources he was unaware that asbestos was improperly removed, it later came to light that this was not true.
In lieu of federal safety procedures like testing for asbestos before abatement, Carter ordered several firefighters to remove asbestos-contaminated tiles, mastic and insulation without the necessary training or safety equipment.
Further, Carter did not disclose that the materials contained asbestos or that removal procedures could place his firefighters at substantial risk for asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma. Carter chose to resign from his position.