Miners and mining communities are among those at the greatest risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases. Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that was extensively mined during the early 20th century. Because asbestos is durable and flexible, as well as fire- and heat-resistant, it was used in manufacturing over 3,000 products.
Beginning in the 1800s, asbestos was extensively mined throughout North America, peaking during World War II and continuing through the late 20th century. There are currently no functioning asbestos mines in the United States, but Canada and many other countries continue asbestos mining in order to sell the substance to manufacturers throughout the world.
Mining and milling activities to remove asbestos from underground rock exposes workers to dangerous levels of the carcinogen. Besides the workers, people who live near asbestos mines also have an increased risk of exposure.
Besides asbestos miners, generations of vermiculite and talc miners have been exposed to tremolite asbestos dust in mines. The level of asbestosis, lung disease, and mesothelioma is high among these workers. Although some talc manufacturers insist that the form of tremolite in talc should not be labeled “asbestos,” the tremolite clearly poses a hazard to miners and their families and may well be harmful to end-users.
Tremolite asbestos is a contaminant of vermiculite—an ore resembling mica that is used in housing insulation (Zonolite), soil conditioners, fertilizers, cement mixtures, and as an ingredient in animal feed (Verxite).
From 1924 to 1990, Zonolite Mountain in Libby, Montana, was the site of a vermiculite mining operation. The mine provided at least 80 percent of the world’s supply of vermiculite. In one estimate, the ore was sent to more than 60 processing plants in the United States and Canada, where workers became ill with lung-related diseases (Seattle Post–Intelligencer, December 22, 1999).
Many workers in the Zonolite mine were stricken with asbestos-related diseases. Preliminary health screening tests conducted by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry showed that 50 percent of the vermiculite workers examined had signs of lung scarring. But even more shocking is that 25 percent of those who were not directly involved in vermiculite mining had lung-related health problems. Local physicians and Environmental Protection Agency officials attribute these statistics to asbestos contamination in Libby from the vermiculite mine.
Libby is not the only locale in which asbestos-contaminated vermiculite has been found. A working vermiculite mine in Louisa, Virginia, owned by Robert Samson of Virginia Vermiculite, sells about 100,000 tons of the material per year (Seattle Post–Intelligencer, October 4, 2000). The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) performed an analysis of the air in the vermiculite mine that showed the presence of both tremolite and actinolite asbestos fibers.
In April 2008, the MSHA passed regulations protecting mine workers from workplace asbestos exposure. The MSHA regulations prohibited employers in the mining industry from exposing workers to asbestos levels above 0.1 fiber per cubic meter of air during an 8-hour shift (other industries allow 0.2 fiber per cubic meter in an 8-hour day).
If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease after mining workplace exposure, it is highly recommended that you contact an experienced asbestos attorney as soon as possible. Get in touch today to learn more.