A History of Asbestos in the USA

Asbestos is a natural material that has been around since the beginning of time. It has also been mined and used in the USA for hundreds of years. In this article, we look at a history of asbestos including what it is, and its timeline in the USA. This helps you become informed and understand if you are at danger of asbestosis.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a natural fibre that can be extracted by mining techniques. It is naturally occurring and has properties that make it an excellent construction material. This includes heat-resistance, strength, and durability.

However, asbestos fibres can also be incredibly dangerous and cause asbestosis. This is a potentially lethal lung condition that, in extreme cases can cause lung cancer. For more information on asbestosis, you can check out our guide.

Before the dangers of asbestos were fully understood, it was widely used around the world in construction materials. This is why it is important to arm yourself with knowledge and understand when it was used in the USA. You can then determine if your home could contain asbestos, and if you need to take any actions.

What Products Contained Asbestos?

Before we delve into the history of asbestos in the USA, let’s take a look at how it was used. Once the beneficial properties were known, manufacturers basically tried to add it into every construction item. This resulted in a huge range of asbestos products including:

• Floor tiles
• Adhesive
• Insulation
Popcorn ceilings

You can find additional information on all of these products via our individual guides. This includes tips on how to identify them, and what do to if you find asbestos in your home.

A Timeline of Asbestos in the USA

Asbestos was used heavily in the USA from the 1800s onward and still today it is actually imported which you may not be aware of. Below, we have outlined a brief timeline of asbestos in the USA including it’s current status today.

1800s – Asbestos Mining and Manufacturing Increases

In the beginning of the 19th century blue asbestos was discovered and mined in Africa. After this initial discovery, the phenomenon spread and asbestos was soon mined worldwide including in Canada, Russia, and America.

Towards the end of the 19th century, huge asbestos industries flourished in countries like Scotland, England, Finland, and Germany. The USA would follow suit.

Early 1900s – Asbestos Mining Spikes & Increased Demand

At the start of the 1900s, it was estimated that 30,000 tons of asbestos were mined annually. This increase in mining was a result of mechanized mining techniques whereas in the 19th century, the process was labour intense and largely manual.

The H.W Johns Manufacturing Company became one of the first large asbestos companies in the US and was one of the first to utilize it in various construction products including fireproofing materials. The owner Henry Ward Johns was responsible for the expansion of asbestos use in the USA and his company eventually merged with another to become Johns Manville.

Various companies sprung up during this period and it was a time in the USA when mining and usage continually increased.

Mid 1900s – Wartime need for asbestos

In many countries during WW2, the mining of asbestos decreased as efforts were needed elsewhere. However, in the USA, mining increased and flourished. It was estimated that by 1942, the USA accounted for 60% of the world’s asbestos production. It was also widely used in military equipment. This trend continued after WW2 and into the 60s and 70s and showed no signs of slowing down.

Late 1900s – Asbestos Mining Ban and Regulations

From the 1970s onwards, more weight was given to the dangers of asbestos and in most countries worldwide it was banned. Indeed, in the USA, asbestos mining was eventually banned, and there hasn’t been any active mining since 2002.

There has been an on-going struggle with the US government and organizations like EPA to ban asbestos completely. Too. During the late 1900s, regulations were introduced which helped control the use of asbestos in residential projects.

Asbestos regulation and bans largely remain a state-by-state process, though. At federal level, there is a regulation requiring companies must report how they use asbestos in their products. There has been no blanket ban, however, and any attempts are typically blocked by industrial lobbyists who want to protect their profits.

Asbestos in the USA Today

One of the most common questions asked, is when was asbestos banned in the USA? It may surprise you to know that it still isn’t completely banned. Despite the known health risks, and the fact that scientists have said there is no safe exposure level for asbestos dust, it’s still imported.

That’s right, reports show that in January-March of 2022, 114 metric tons of asbestos was imported. This is due to the 1991 appeal which overturned the previous EPA 1989 banning of asbestos. Therefore, currently, there has been no asbestos mining in the USA since 2002.

However, bans only apply to asbestos being used in any products that would be initiated for the first time after 1989. Additionally, specific products like flooring felt, rollboard, and asbestos paper are outright banned. You can read this EPA article relating to the current status of asbestos in the USA.

Essentially, asbestos is not banned in the USA. It can be legally imported, and most products can legally contain 1% of asbestos.

Asbestos Could Still Cause a Problem so Be Vigilant and Test Your Property

As you can see, asbestos is still used in the USA today and it could still be a health hazard for home owners. This is why we urge you to be thorough. Our test kits are incredibly easy to use including instructions on how to take a sample and you get all the required equipment. If you think your property could contain asbestos, it is better to be safe and test – you can then take action if necessary.