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U.S. is importing the most asbestos in years

We tend to think of asbestos as something that we used to use. This is only partly true. Asbestos mining is against the law. All asbestos mines have been shut down because asbestos is a highly toxic mineral that causes mesothelioma and lung cancer. And asbestos can no longer be used as insulation in homes, for example, and is widely prohibited.

However, asbestos remains in many buildings and consumer goods. And asbestos is still used widely in the manufacturing of chlorine and lye, and can be used in gaskets, fireproofing materials and other products. Current demand remains strong enough that the U.S. imported 705 metric tons of raw asbestos in 2016, double that from 2015. One metric ton is over 2,200 pounds.

The U.S. International Trade Commission published its estimate in September.

Why the uptick in this dangerous fiber?

While asbestos is highly regulated, there is no complete ban on its use in all industries. The Environmental Protection Agency did temporarily succeed in banning asbestos-containing products in 1989, but its ruling was overturned a few years later.

In 2016, lawmakers amended the Toxic Substances Control Act and gave the EPA greater freedom to investigate asbestos and issue comprehensive bans. However, as the EPA investigates asbestos, the product remains legal to use in some industries.

People are still exposed to asbestos

Asbestos remains a hazard to which many people are exposed. It appears that asbestos use will continue in some manufacturing processes for the next several years, at a minimum. While not illegal in some industries, asbestos is still a known hazard. That means companies who are responsible for exposing workers and others to asbestos may be liable in a civil lawsuit.

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