Asbestos in the United States has, for as long as I can remember, been associated with antiquated building materials, cancer, and expensive removal costs for those looking to buy, sell or update a home.
In other parts of the world however, asbestos is as prominent as fiberglass and as important an industry as any other type of mining. In fact, despite its cryptic legacy, over two million metric tons are produced each year – with Russia accounting for more than half of that total. China, Brazil and Kazakhstan largely account for the rest.
So how can asbestos, with its proven link to cancer and its standing as a banned substance in 52 countries, still generate more than $3.5 billion dollars annually?
Well, let’s look at the primary consumers – in descending order they’re Russia, China, India and Brazil. You know, the infamous BRIC countries. Developing economies that need to expand and are willing to overlook some of those pesky health and environmental regulations that can drive up internal investments costs, and undoubtedly impact global competitiveness.
Additionally, when looking at the primary producers and exporters, none of them, especially Russia with an estimated 100 years supply of asbestos, is looking to shutter a steadily performing industry segment. However, what’s most concerning is that there appears to be minimal investment by these countries in addressing the health concerns associated with mining and processing asbestos.
As a result, it’s projected that nearly 100,000 people will die from asbestos-related exposure annually.
However, before we get too high and mighty, it’s important to note that the U.S. is not one of those countries that has banned asbestos. While a number of states do have local regulations in place and the EPA has addressed how it can be used, about 400 metric tons of asbestos still finds its way to the U.S. each year.
You might be surprised to learn that it’s still used for items such as engine gaskets, bowling balls, and as recently as last month, asbestos was even found in some brands of imported crayons.