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Asbestos foes again call for import ban in wake of 2011 increase

Advocates for victims of mesothelioma are once again asking the United States to ban imports of asbestos, following the release of a government report that says use of the known carcinogen by U.S. industry is on the rise.


According to the 2012 U.S. Geological Survey Mineral Commodity Summaries, asbestos consumption from January-July 2011 was 1,100 metric tons — a 34 percent increase over the same six-month period in 2010. The USGS said the recent data, which estimated that overall use of asbestos last year rose about 6 percent, do not represent a “resurgence in the asbestos industry.”

But Linda Reinstein, president and co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, said in a statement that she was “appalled and shocked” at the reported increase in consumption of the deadly mineral by U.S. manufacturers.

“I am calling on Congress and the President to immediately prohibit the importation of raw asbestos and asbestos-containing products from crossing our borders to protect public health,” said Reinstein, whose husband died of mesothelioma, a disease caused from asbestos exposure.

The USGS report notes that, since asbestos mining in the U.S. ended in 2002, American companies have relied on imported chrysotile, or white asbestos. Almost all of the asbestos used in the United States comes from Canada, with a small amount imported from Brazil. About 60 percent is used to make roofing products. The USGS says many manufacturers that use asbestos have switched to substitutes, but that American industries will likely continue use about 1,000 tons annually “in the near future.”

At least 55 countries, including the European Union, have banned the use of asbestos. Nearly 110,000 people worldwide die from asbestos-related diseases each year, according to the World Health Organization. The WHO estimates that one in every three deaths from occupational cancer is caused by asbestos, and that several thousand people die annually from exposure to asbestos in the home. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which began regulating the substance in the early 1970s, warns that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.

Reinstein and other health and safety advocates, environmentalists and physicians have long been calling for the United States to ban asbestos. She said the recent data from the USGS suggests that is the only way to protect American workers and consumers.

 “The asbestos industry has argued for years that importation and exposure has been decreasing,” she said. “However, we have discovered today that their argument simply isn’t true.