Asbestos Use Throughout the World

For over 4,000 years, asbestos has been mined worldwide, but large-scale mining did not begin until the end of the 19th century. Manufacturers and builders began using asbestos because of its desirable physical properties. Due to adverse health impacts from the use of asbestos, many countries have restricted the use or completely banned the use of asbestos.

When did Asbestos use and mesothelioma become a global problem?
Concern for asbestos-related health problems began in the 20th century and escalated during the 1920s and 1930s. By the 1980s and 1990s, asbestos trade and use was restricted, phased out, or banned outright in an increasing number of countries. Researchers have determined the annual number of global mesothelioma deaths is approximately 38,400.

Countries with high mesothelioma incidence rates include the United Kingdom, Canada, The Netherlands, Malta, Belgium, Australia, and New Zealand.

Countries that Banned the Use of Asbestos

Nearly 60 countries have a complete ban on the use of asbestos, the majority of which are developed countries.

Great Britain has the highest mortality rate in the world, with an incidence rate of 18.36 per million people. A few dozen producers of asbestos products, as well as the large shipbuilding industry in the UK are mostly responsible for the deaths from mesothelioma.

Australia has the second highest mortality rate from mesothelioma in the world today, with an incidence rate of 16.7 per million people. Two out of three homes in Australia built between WWII and the early 1980s still contain asbestos. Australia banned the use of crocidolite asbestos in 1967 and the use of amosite asbestos in 1989.

Canada opened its first asbestos mine in Quebec n 1879, and due to large deposits of the mineral, several ore mines opened across Canada. The Canadian government supported the country’s asbestos mining industry with federal funding. Canada’s mesothelioma incidence rate is now one of the highest in the world. Asbestos exposure is the No. 1 cause of occupational death in Canada, accounting for one-third of workplace deaths. Canada did not ban the import, manufacture, sale, trade or use of products made from asbestos until 12/31/2018.

Asbestos Use in the United States

The last U.S. asbestos mine closed in 2002. However, the United States remains one of the few developed countries not to ban asbestos, which is legal and still used in products like clothing, pipeline wraps, vinyl floor tiles, millboards, cement pipes, disk brake pads, gaskets, and roof coatings.

OSH set limits of not more than 100,000 asbestos fibers with lengths greater than or equal to 5μm per cubic meter of workplace air for eight-hour work shifts.

Asbestos Use in Developing Countries

Some underdeveloped countries, such as India, Indonesia, China, Russia and Brazil, and Vietnam have no ban on asbestos and continue widespread manufacture and use of asbestos. The most common product containing asbestos is corrugated asbestos-cement sheets or “A/C sheets” for roofing and sidewalls.

Many homes, factories, schools, sheds, and shelters use asbestos. Cutting sheets to size and drilling holes to receive ‘J’ bolts to help secure the sheets to roof framing is done on-site.

In 2017, 1.3 million tons of asbestos was mined globally. Russia was the biggest producer by far with 53% of global production, followed by Kazakhstan (16%), China (15%), and Brazil (11.5%). Asia consumes nearly 70% of the asbestos produced in the world with China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam being the largest consumers.