Naturally Found Asbestos

Although the EPA explains naturally found asbestos poses no threat to individuals if left undisturbed, its occurrence in specific global regions allowed it to be mined for and produced, putting very specific populations at risk. One notable example remains the town of Libby, Montana, which held one of the world’s leading vermiculite mines. Unfortunately, that vermiculite mined at Libby was contaminated with dangerous levels of asbestos material as well. Today Libby remains the focus of a major EPA-run effort to restore environmental safety to this town and remove this threat, which has already claimed hundreds of lives.

Asbestos Deposits in the United States

In addition to Libby, the U.S. Geological Survey indicates the presence of hundreds of past and current mines that held asbestos materials along the eastern side of the Appalachian chain of mountains. Additional natural deposits of asbestos lie in the western area of the country, including Michigan, the Rocky Mountains, Washington, Oregon and Arizona. California holds one of the largest asbestos deposits, which can be found along its coastal regions, fault lines, the foothills of the Sierra and the Klamath Mountains.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, asbestos is found most commonly in three types of rock, which are serpentinites, altered ultramafic rocks, and some mafic rocks. Other rocks that might hold traces of asbestos include metamorphosed dolostones, metamorphosed iron formations, carbonatites and alkalic intrusions. Increased pressure, temperatures and water presence can contribute to the faulting and fracturing that allows for the formation of this material.

International Asbestos Production

Nations that maintain the lead in asbestos production include Russia, China and Brazil, among others. While some of these nations mine and produce this material for only their own nation’s use, other nations continue to export the material abroad. Among those under the most criticized for their continued production and sale of the material to other nations is Canada. Although this developed nation holds strict regulation against this material’s use and is actively removing the material from its past construction, Canada continues to ship this product to developing nations that do not have such stringent regulations, like India and Mexico.

References:

The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry
EPA
Morris, Jim. (July 21, 2010) “Exporting an Epidemic.” Retrieved April 19, 2011 from The Center for Public Integrity.
U.S. Geological Survey