Since asbestos is a naturally occurring material, it is extracted from the earth through mining. When it was more widely used, multiple mines were open throughout the United States (U.S.) and Canada to harvest and prepare it for companies, but the known dangers have caused the mines to shut down. To mine asbestos, mining companies created open pits where they blasted or drilled the ore. The ore would then be crushed, dried, and milled to remove and separate asbestos fibers. A different process for extracting asbestos involves bulldozers and scrapers removing ore from the pit. To reduce asbestos dust, the ore is thoroughly wetted down when it is crushed and screened. It is considered a safer way to mine for asbestos since it reduces the dust being sent into the air. While both ways are effective to mine asbestos, the bulldozer method is preferable due to its safety precautions.
Mining asbestos causes asbestos fibers to become airborne and travel to nearby neighborhoods – covering lawns, houses, and everything else around town. This was tested by the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health in Thetford Mines, Canada where levels of asbestos inside and outside people’s homes were documented in 2004. Researchers and scientists analyzed air, soil, and dust samples, and found that more than half of the 28 samples taken contained asbestos fibers, exceeding U.S. regulations. Fourteen samples were also taken from lawns and a playground and the samples contained more asbestos than was considered safe. While there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, the permissible exposure limit set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is .1 fibers per cubic centimeter. Asbestos is still present in the environment in larger concentrations than the permissible exposure limit, making Thetford Mines an unsafe place to live. These findings show that mining for asbestos is not only harmful toward the miners but it is also harmful to anyone living around the mine.
People in another asbestos mining town, Wittenoom, Western Australia, have seen many health problems after living there multiple years. While the mine, Yampire Gorge, is closed now, former residents are facing many health problems which include more than the typical mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer diagnoses. These adults have an increased risk of brain cancer, leukemia, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, and heart disease compared to the general western Australian population. This is due to the mine producing one of the most dangerous forms of asbestos, crocidolite (also known as blue asbestos). Crocidolite fibers are extremely thin and sharp and are able to be lodged in human tissue very easily. While it is not conclusive, there is a strong correlation between living in Wittenoom and having an increased risk of cancer due to asbestos exposure. Wittenoom is now a ghost town since all but three residents have moved out of the town as of 2016 due to the danger of asbestos. All government services have been terminated and Wittenoom has not existed on maps of Australia since 2007.
At Goldberg, Persky & White, P.C. we know having an asbestos related disease can be hard. If you have been exposed to asbestos and have mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis and would like to speak to one of our attorneys you can fill out our contact form or call us at 412-471-3980.