Digging up the past may be a phrase or subject most people do not want to bring up in conversation or in general ever again. The same might be said about the past history of mining for asbestos. Asbestos has been around for centuries, with its use being recorded across the globe from Egypt to Northern Europe. A wide range of items contained or were made with asbestos such as pots, clothes, building products, and many other various manufactured products throughout hundreds of years.
There are six classification types of asbestos fibers which come from mineral rock deposits found in the earth. All six classified asbestos types such as chrysotile, anthophyllite, amosite, actinolite, crocidolite, and tremolite, in which are harmful once extracted or mined from the earth.
Due to the massive mining and unregulated worksite exposure to asbestos over the last two centuries, there has been a formidable amount of diagnosed illness recorded as a result of asbestos mining. Some of the most severe ailments include lung cancer, pharynx cancer (lip cancer), and a rare form of cancer, which comes almost exclusively from exposure to asbestos, called mesothelioma.
Mining for Asbestos and Digging Up the Past
Historically, asbestos was extracted from the ground for use in many products. In the late 1800s, an increase in the production of asbestos was utilized because of the great demand for consumer and commercial applications. Additionally, for mechanization of mining machinery that replaced the role of many labor-intensive mining tasks; previously, handled by men, horses, or draft animals.
There have been over 3,000 recorded uses for the mineral in consumer products. Asbestos was popular due to some of its highly attractive properties known for heat-resistant, non-corrosive, and fiber tensile strength. Moreover, mineral rock deposits containing asbestos were abundantly found not only here in the United States but all over the world.
Alongside the discovery of large asbestos deposits in Canada, South Africa, and the United States, the expansion of the asbestos market was able to grow because of modern industrialization. The economic attraction due to the overall abundance and qualities made it a very viable product which developed into a massive industry that holds a large presence across the world today. From this point forward, asbestos mining became naturally more sufficient for handling large scale production; therefore, unfortunately, expanding the infamous footprint of the side-effects of mining asbestos.
Mining for Asbestos and extracting mesothelioma
The process of mining asbestos is very physical. From start to finish, the whole foundation of mining is to extract a physical substance or material from the ground. With asbestos extraction, the mineral rock deposits will more than likely have the same texture or physical nature as the asbestos fibers themselves. Once the deposits are extracted, they are broken up to be transported to be taken out of the mined area to be crushed or milled. Once this process has been done, the milled or crushed product will then be distributed to other manufacturers or end-users.
A majority of past and present asbestos mining operations center around a traditional open-pit mining layout. These operations are typical for mining asbestos, which requires a lot of human resources to extract the mineral rock from the ground to separate the asbestos fibers. Here, substantial labor activities were necessary to mine the mineral rock deposits where the ore came from, especially before the extensive use of machinery.
With large scale production also came a matter of large-scale illness. With the advancement of mechanization in mining came the aftermath that seemingly followed as a consequence of many years of asbestos mining. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that resides in the lining of the stomach or lungs. The cancer is a tumorous type known to lay dormant and is a long- term effect from the exposure of asbestos fiber.
Asbestos and Mesothelioma
An abundant natural resource with so many valuable uses is usually protected and preserved by most societies. Over time, because of commercial mining, lung cancer and the onset of mesothelioma became a frequent association with human exposure to asbestos. There are also notable cases of pharynx cancer or lip cancer reported out of the South African region from studies following the aftermath of long-term commercial mining for asbestos. In the United States, the result of Libby, MT; seen in more recent times, has showcased the onslaught of the side-effects of broad-scale commercial mining exposure and what can happen first-hand with exposure in a community. The latter half of the twentieth century was a time when years of studies and research began to overpower the superior influence of the massive asbestos industry not only in the United States but across the world.
Asbestos Mining Today
Currently, asbestos is still being mined commercially in some nations across the globe but is now more strictly regulated, in comparison, to the first half of the twentieth century. At this time, several regulatory agencies are operating here within the bounds of the United States Government as an overall response compiled from years of research and statistics that pertained to the improvement of worker health, safety, exposures, and industry standards for the American workforce across the board. For example, in the United States, in 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act was signed and formed into what we now know, as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or (OSHA). This governmental organization was not created solely because of asbestos mining but based on the general example of how a particular industry as a whole could enact a more effective way or standard set for the overall precedent for workplace safety in the United States.
Here in the United States, asbestos is still used in limited quantities for specific commercial products but are strictly regulated and controlled through OSHA. The OSHA standard calls for the asbestos-related product or fixture to contain no more than 1% of the mineral fiber or makeup of asbestos per part in any of the final product or material. In the United States, large scale commercial mining for asbestos has been banned since 2002. Likewise, other nations have banned asbestos altogether with little or no exception in regards to the import, production, use, or mining associated with any class of the mineral rock fiber.
Today, the majority of asbestos mining in the world takes place on the most significant scale in India, Russia, and China. These three nations alternatively produced more mined asbestos in the last few years which bucks a global trend of most governments leaning to decrease or stop the production of mined asbestos for import or export use. Because of their government’s lack of regulation in controlling the output of mining or consumer use these three large industrialized countries have naturally taken advantage of the growing number of nations pledging to ban asbestos. Basically, when one nation stops mining asbestos these countries will usually take up the slack with what they used to produce or import. In other words, they will absorb or exploit that part of what was a newly banned countries market share.
For example, a few years ago the government of Brazil, which was the leading asbestos importer in the United States up until 2017, banned the mining and use of asbestos altogether in the same year. Before the ban Brazil was one of the top five producers of raw asbestos in the world. In turn, the Brazilian supreme court ban should foster the production or economic enhancement of those less regulated asbestos producing nations. As a result, barring any sanctions or disagreements, Russia should become the top importer of asbestos in the United States just because of Brazil’s exit from the asbestos market.
As time goes on, more nations across the globe are restricting or banning asbestos mining or use. Even when a product could be harmful, history has gone to show us that economics or money can be decidedly more attractive to protect instead of human health or well-being. Research and studies show that even one of the United States’ top asbestos importers; Brazil, who imported around 95% of asbestos to the states in 2016 and over 300 metric tons in 2017, can be swayed by the long-term health effects associated with the mining of asbestos. Instead of exploiting the economic benefits of asbestos mining, the nation of Brazil put the future health of its people before any monetary gain by joining the growing list of countries banning the production and use of asbestos. It goes to show that humankind still can put ‘matter over money instead of money over matter.’ Overall, the need to take human health into consideration is not only necessary for confronting illnesses or mesothelioma because of our past actions but also leading us into our health and well-being in all aspects for our future.