Asbestos in the United States

Asbestos has been used for centuries because of its strength and resistance to fire. Its earliest uses are traced back to the Ancient Greeks, and its original applications were generally on a small, individual scale. The mineral was mixed with cloth for funereal clothing and in wicks for candles meant to burn eternally; it was used to fabricate pots and ceramics for cooking and to strengthen and insulate the suits of armor worn during battle in the Middle Ages.

It was not until the Industrial Revolution that the material was mined and used on a larger scale, and that is when its use in the United States began to take hold and effect the greatest number of American lives. It was used as insulation in steam engines and locomotives and in manufacturing in factories, and once the United States entered World War II its use exploded into the war effort.

Asbestos and the U.S. Military

Asbestos was an integral part of Army barracks, vehicle and airplane brakes, Navy ships and more, which meant that all those working in shipyards and defense contractor factories were exposed to it, and so were the men and women who served in all branches of the military. Decades after the war was over, veterans represented roughly one-third of all those diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos in U.S. Industry

Asbestos was considered a miracle component for manufacturers, who used it to build their factories as well as in the products that they fabricated. It added strength to the buildings that housed their operations and insulated the equipment that powered the assembly lines. It was also included in the products that they were making and providing to consumers. Everywhere that asbestos was used represented the potential for exposure to the carcinogenic material, from the construction workers who built the buildings to the factory workers who made the products.

U.S. Consumer Exposure to Asbestos

Manufacturers who used asbestos in their products exposed both their employees and their customers to the deadly material. Asbestos was included in building materials and appliances, toys and paint. It was not until the mid-1970s that the U.S Environmental Protection Agency revealed that asbestos was dangerous for humans, and not until after that time that its use was scaled back. In the approximately 100 years that asbestos was widely used in the United States, an untold number of people were exposed to it, leading to mesothelioma and other illnesses for tens of thousands of people.

Naturally-Occurring Asbestos in the United States

In addition to industrial use, asbestos is also found naturally within the United States in underground rocks. These deposits generally do not represent a risk unless the asbestos fibers become airborne as a result of being disturbed areas. There are areas where the asbestos is close to the surface, making the risk greater. These areas include parts of New Jersey, California, and Virginia. There are also areas where asbestos is located deeper and was once mined.