11 Min Read
Last Updated: 10/17/2023
Fact Checked

Written by Matt Mauney | Scientifically Reviewed By Arti Shukla, Ph.D. | Edited By Walter Pacheco

Quick Facts About Asbestos in North Carolina
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With three large military bases, veterans who served in the state may have been exposed to asbestos at their barracks or training facility. Workers at the state’s mines, power plants, chemical factories and schools may have been exposed to asbestos.

Mines in North Carolina were once a major source of asbestos-contaminated talc. Talc and asbestos often occur together in the same geological formations.

Talc suppliers who operated mines in North Carolina have been sued for exposing consumers to asbestos. One record-setting lawsuit against Whittaker, Clark & Daniels, for example, resulted in an $18 million verdict in 2016.

The following year, a government-licensed laboratory in Greensboro, North Carolina discovered asbestos fibers in cosmetics marketed to young girls, prompting the national retail chain Justice to withdraw a line of products. This time, however, the contaminated talcum powder in question had been sourced from China, rather than local mines.

In November 2021, a federal bankruptcy judge in North Carolina ruled that Johnson & Johnson’s bankruptcy case must be moved to New Jersey, where the company is headquartered. Johnson & Johnson is facing more than 36,000 asbestos-contaminated talc lawsuits, which it hopes to resolve through a bankruptcy plan that would unload its liabilities into a subsidiary.

Asbestos Mines and Environmental Risks

Naturally occurring asbestos is found in the western portion of the state around the Appalachian Mountain range.

Known asbestos deposits are found in eight counties. Some of these deposits are former mine locations where many workers were heavily exposed to asbestos.

Ashe County

  • Todd Ultramafic Body

Avery County

  • Burleson Mine
  • Unnamed prospect on Big Elk Mountain
  • Frank Mine
  • Unnamed prospect on Hawshaw Mountain

Caldwell County

  • Johns River Mine

Jackson County

  • Addie Olivine Mine
  • Asbestos Mine
  • Balsam Gap Olivine Deposit
  • Bryson Mine
  • Coldsides Mountain Mine
  • Harris Prospect
  • Hogback Creek Mine
  • Jennings No. 2 Mine
  • Rattlesnake Corundum Mine
  • Sapphire Mine
  • Sylva US 23 Bypass Dunite
  • Alders Mine
  • Bad Creek Prospect
  • Brockton Mine
  • Chestnut Gap Chromite Prospect
  • Day Book Dunite Deposit
  • Henderson Mine
  • Holden Mine
  • Manus Mine
  • Round Mountain Mine
  • Dark Ridge Olivine Deposit

Macon County

  • Commissioner Creek Prospect
  • Peterman Mine
  • Unnamed Prospect Corbin Knob
  • Higdon Mine
  • Unnamed Occurrence Corbin Knob
  • Corundum Hill Mine

Mitchell County

  • J.H. Pannell Prospect
  • Spruce Pine Unnamed Occurrences
  • Soapstone Branch Prospect

Transylvania County

  • Jennings No. 1 Mine
  • L.E. Cash Property
  • Oakland Mine
  • Walnut Cove Mine
  • Kilpatrick Mine
  • Miller Mine
  • Socrates Corundum Mine

Yancey County

  • Blue Rock Mine
  • Cas Thomas Prospect
  • Newdale Mine
  • C.W. Allen Prospect
  • J.C. Woody Mine
  • Sam Grindstaff Mine

Naturally Occurring Asbestos in Ultramafic Rock Formations

  • Buncombe County
  • Haywood County
  • Madison County
  • Watauga County
  • Clay County
  • Henderson County
  • Polk County

Asbestos in Industrial, Military and Public Spaces

In addition to the state’s naturally occurring asbestos, a number of locations, such as workplaces and public buildings, have been a source of asbestos exposure for North Carolina residents.

Asbestos Risk for North Carolina Firefighters

Firefighters in North Carolina are particularly vulnerable to legacy asbestos, found within older public, commercial, industrial and residential structures throughout the state.

The North Carolina Insurance Commissioner’s office has shared data showing that malignant mesothelioma was one of the most prevalent occupational cancers that firefighters reported. Exposure to asbestos fibers is the primary cause of mesothelioma.

North Carolina established a voluntary cancer registry within the Office of State Fire Marshall early in 2021, hoping to raise awareness of the cancer risk within the occupation.

In 2021, North Carolina was the only state in the country that did not offer special cancer benefits for first responders or firefighters, something that legislators are being encouraged to change.

Early results from the state registry have shown that mesothelioma and prostate cancer were the most prevalent types of cancer reported. Others included colon, bladder and esophageal cancer.

According to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, a national advocacy group, firefighters have a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer than the general population. An earlier study estimated that being a firefighter doubled the chances of being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive disease.

Workplaces and Public Buildings With Documented Asbestos

  • Carolina Power and Light Company
  • Liggett Myers Tobacco Factory
  • Watauga County Public Schools
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Education Center
  • Owens-Corning Fiberglass Charlotte Campus
  • Fayetteville Street Apartments
  • Syngenta Biotechnology Campus
  • Appalachian State University residence dorms
  • New Hanover County Administration Building
  • Metrolina Warehouse

Public Buildings

Asbestos in public buildings is a nationwide concern for Americans including residents of North Carolina. Even if the asbestos in a building is considered safely contained, renovation or demolition could pose an exposure risk to those nearby.

For example, in 2018, a Madison County administrative building was closed when asbestos was found during a carpet replacement project. Workers found asbestos tiles and asbestos glue underneath the old carpet.

The building, which also serves as a voting site, was closed for weeks to safely remove the asbestos-contaminated materials.

Military Facilities

Many of the buildings at Fort Bragg, a military base in Fayetteville, were built with asbestos-containing materials.

In 2008, a large scandal was exposed when a soldier at the facility, along with up to nine other soldiers, was ordered to scrape asbestos tiles out of barracks and bring the materials to a nearby dumpster. The soldiers were exposed to the asbestos for 11 days without any proper training or gear.

Tests revealed that the tile backing contained up to 25% chrysotile asbestos. Other soldiers in the area may have been exposed to asbestos in the air after the project, although the Army denies that any of the soldiers were placed in danger.

North Carolina is also home to the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. This facility includes several camps and a Marine Corps air station, all of which may pose an asbestos exposure threat to the men and women who serve at the base. Asbestos was found on the pipes at Camp Grainger and both buildings at Tarawa Terrace.

In a public release addressing environmental concerns at the facility, North Carolina’s Seymour Johnson Air Force Base indicated that a number of materials at the site may contain asbestos.

Materials at Camp Lejeune that may contain asbestos:

  • Floor tiles
  • Floor tile mastic
  • Roofing materials
  • Joint compound
  • Thermal insulation
  • Boiler gaskets

The air force base has regulated that an asbestos examination must precede all renovation projects on campus. An abatement professional must remove any materials containing asbestos. They also report that all on-base housing units were built with asbestos-free materials.

Asbestos Manufacturing in Davidson

From the 1930s to the 1960s, the Carolina Asbestos Corporation operated an asbestos manufacturing plant in Davidson, North Carolina. The plant made asbestos tiles, shingles and fabric.

During the decades the plant operated, asbestos waste was dumped in a ditch on the property as well as in residential areas around the property. In the 1980s, clean soil was placed on top of the contaminated ditch in an effort to contain the asbestos.

In November 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency responded to complaints about asbestos contamination in the neighborhood. The agency conducted soil tests at 77 properties around the area and found asbestos at 20 locations. A sample found in the street near the plant contained 70% asbestos.

They told residents not to dig, mow, rake or do any kind of yard work to avoid disturbing asbestos. The agency cleaned 20 contaminated properties before August 30, 2017. However, residents continue to find asbestos on their properties. In January 2020, a state official told residents to refrain from digging in their soil to avoid asbestos exposure.

In January 2017, officials announced that a groundhog had burrowed into the soil cap covering the contaminated ditch, causing a leak that produced white runoff during rainy weather. A temporary cap was implemented until a more permanent remediation plan is enacted.

Today, the property is known as the Metrolina Warehouse site. The town is working with a local developer who wants to build apartments on the property, known as the Davidson Depot project, but extensive asbestos abatement must be conducted first. Many residents oppose the development and fear it will cause more asbestos exposure in the community.

Vermiculite Refineries

Founded in 1954 as Zonolite, Inc., a W.R. Grace-owned vermiculite refinery (Carolina Vermiculite Company owned it at one time) received at least 150 shipments of vermiculite from W.R Grace’s mine in Libby, Montana.

More than 10,100 tons of asbestos-tainted vermiculite arrived at the facility in High Point, where workers exposed the mineral to heat until it “popped.” While processing the asbestos-contaminated vermiculite for use in paints, plastics and construction materials, workers at the refinery were at high risk for inhaling airborne asbestos.

The facility stopped processing Libby vermiculite in June 1987. Testing in 2000 found that the remaining soil at the former facility was not a current asbestos problem and that no remedial action was necessary.

While the High Point refinery was known to process asbestos-contaminated vermiculite, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also listed three other North Carolina facilities that “potentially” received Libby’s vermiculite ore. W.R. Grace and Company’s shipping invoices did not indicate that any shipments had been made to these facilities, but ore processed from other vermiculite companies may have been laced with asbestos.

These other North Carolina-based vermiculite processing facilities included the Southern Vermiculite Plant in Franklin County, Carolina Wholesale in Sanford and the American Vermiculite Company in Spruce Pine.

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Asbestos Research

In December 2008, the EPA issued a $2.1 million grant to Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences (acquired by SciMetrika in 2016) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

The grant was designated for the study of vermiculite, a mineral that resembles asbestos, to determine the similarities and differences between the two minerals. Laboratory studies conducted during the three-year study looked to identify the retention rate of the fibers in the lungs of lab rats.

Results of the study indicated that half the asbestos fibers inhaled by the lab rats were present 18 months after exposure.

North Carolina Asbestos Removal

EMSL Analytical, Inc., a company that specializes in environmental quality testing, grew into a newer and larger Charlotte facility in August 2011. Company officials said that the increased demand for asbestos testing in the area necessitated finding a larger facility, which is now twice as large as their original workspace. The lab will test a wide range of samples, including polarized light microscopy (PLM) bulk samples, fiber count phase contrast microscopy (PCM) air samples and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) air samples.

Another large North Carolina-based environmental remediation company, Environmental Holdings Group, estimates that 40 percent of its projects are asbestos-related. The company has completed over 2,000 removal tasks in the past 10 years, including several projects in nearby states.

Asbestos labs such as ESML Analytical are regulated under North Carolina’s Asbestos Hazard Management Program (AHMP). The AHMP regulates training for asbestos professionals and issues permits for asbestos removal projects. It also investigates public complaints about exposed asbestos. Under the AHMP, industrial operations in North Carolina must also perform routine air monitoring, install and regularly inspect air cleaning devices and contract with a licensed asbestos abatement business for the removal of friable asbestos.

Asbestos Violations in North Carolina

Businesses and individuals who break state or federal asbestos regulations during maintenance, demolition or any other work involving asbestos are subject to fines from the EPA and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In December 2014, the city of Charlotte paid a $2,500 fine to Mecklenburg County after failing to obtain the proper permits needed to renovate a Charlotte Fire Department building on North Graham Street. A former employee of the fire department claims she was fired by the city for reporting safety issues in the building, including asbestos and mold. The city maintains it let her go because she shared an offensive social media post on Facebook.

According to Sue Rutledge, head of Charlotte’s building services division, officials did not know permits were needed for the repairs that took place, including the removal of a temporary wall and other renovations. However, the city later admitted that it should have sought a permit for the job.

In June 2008, the North Carolina Department of Labor issued a $350 fine to Gray Stone Day School in Misenheimer for neglecting to inform its employees about asbestos-containing materials. Pfeiffer University’s Harris Science Building, where the day school is located, contained asbestos insulation on steam pipes and spray-on asbestos fireproofing material.

In addition to the fine, Gray Stone received a written citation for not having a written hazard communication program that explains potential hazards to employees. Another citation was issued over a lack of employee training on hazardous materials.

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