Naturally-Occurring Asbestos in the U.S. – An Illustrative Map

Naturally-Occurring Asbestos in the U.S. – An Illustrative Map | Pintas & Mullins Law Firm

Most people familiar with asbestos and mesothelioma know that exposure most often occurs in the workplace, such as in shipyards and construction sites. Lesser known is the prevalence of natural asbestos mineral deposits, many of which were previously mined before it was made illegal in 1989. Asbestos exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight this graphic of naturally-occurring asbestos deposits from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Click on image for larger view.

The USGS began publishing this information in 2004, however it is important to note that the information is not comprehensive because it is compiled from each state’s individual geologic data. Because of the expansive geographic size of the state, California has by far the most asbestos occurrences, dwarfing other states in comparison with 193.

What is perhaps most surprising is the amount of former asbestos mines and projects in Arizona (46 and 49, respectively). Most of these abandoned mines and projects are in Salt River region of Gila County, Arizona, and were established to mine chrysotile asbestos. Beginning in 1913, mines in that region produced over 75,000 tons of chrysotile asbestos, and one mine was still operating as late as 1982.

Toxic Clean-Ups Delayed

Overall, 34 of the continental states report natural asbestos deposits, ranging in size and exposure potential for the surrounding community. Perhaps the most immediately dangerous is the former Lowell and Eden chrysotile mines, located in Orleans County, Vermont. These were the largest asbestos mines in the Eastern U.S., and negotiations over who will fund the clean-up project are still ongoing.

Recently, the Vermont Asbestos Group negotiated a deal with the EPA and Attorney General’s Office to put $50,000 toward the clean-up. The defunct mines ceased operations in 1993, and the Vermont Group has been given until 2023 to complete its payment. Considering the devastating health effects of asbestos exposure, thirty years to complete a clean-up is unacceptable, dangerous, and negligent any way you look at it.

The current plan for this site is to flatten the piles of asbestos waste and cover them with soil and other natural materials. According to state environmental officials, “there is little to no chance all the waste will ever be totally removed.” The air surrounding the site continues to be monitored.

Appalachian Exposure Concerns

There are six types of asbestos minerals, chrysotile being the most prevalent. In the Southern Appalachians, there are dozens of anthophyllite asbestos deposits. Anthophyllite asbestos is more dangerous than chyrsotile (though this distinction is relative; they both cause mesothelioma and asbestosis), and was most commonly used in composite flooring. Anthophyllite was mined from 44 sites in North Carolina and Georgia into the mid-1990s despite federal bans.

Public Health Consequences

Naturally-occurring asbestos resembles hair-like mineral fibers, and can be transported through water, wind, clothing, and cars. Simply put, the health risks of natural asbestos exposure are largely unknown. In patients diagnosed with mesothelioma and asbestosis, it is clear that, when inhaled, the fibers permanently lodge themselves deep into lung tissue, eventually causing cancers and other respiratory illnesses.

There are many concerns about new residential developments being built on top of asbestos deposits, such as those in El Dorado County, California, near Sacramento. In Libby, Montana, where one of the most devastating asbestos mines operated, about one-fifth of the population now suffers from mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases. Another recent study of the Iron Belt mines in Minnesota concluded that there was an increased risk of death among those working in mines containing asbestos deposits. These are just a few examples. 

Doctors and researchers throughout the country, particularly in Nevada and Hawaii, are making concerted efforts to analyze fibers and samples to establish the public health risk, as well as to build better maps of asbestos prevalence. We hope these scientific developments help developers and environmentalists make better-informed decisions about where to build and how to protect ourselves.

Our team of asbestos exposure attorneys is currently reviewing and accepting cases of mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other related illnesses. We have decades of experience fighting cases of people injured by toxic substances, particularly those that occur on-the-job. If you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos and was diagnosed with an associated disease, contact our firm immediately. We accept clients from all 50 states, and our case reviews are always free of charge.