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U.S. still a major importer of asbestos for industrial use

With all the attention that has been paid to asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, it would be logical to assume that products containing asbestos are no longer available in the United States. While many countries around the world have banned asbestos, the U.S. is not one of them. In fact, while more than four dozen nations have banned the mineral, the United States imported more than 2 million pounds of asbestos in 2012 -- all of it from Brazil.

According to people who track asbestos-related illnesses, an average of at least 30 people in the U.S. and nearly 300 around the world die every day of asbestos-related causes. While the U.S. is a major importer of asbestos, it is produced mainly in Russia, China and Brazil.

The total volume of asbestos imports has declined precipitously in the last four decades. At its peak, the U.S. imported 803,000 metric tons of asbestos in 1973; the figure last year was 1,060 metric tons. However, knowing what we do about asbestos, many people feel that figure should be zero.

Corporations have been the main driver for keeping asbestos imports coming. Much of the asbestos today is used in the manufacturing of chemicals such as chlorine and sodium hydroxide. Experts say, however, that there are less-dangerous alternatives available. The companies that use asbestos contend that their workers are safe and are routinely checked for health issues. However, by the time someone is showing symptoms of an asbestos-related illness, it may be too late for them to recover their health.

Source: The Center for Public Integrity, "U.S. asbestos imports condemned by health experts, activists," Jim Morris, April 4, 2013

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