All asbestos types originate in the ground. They’ve been mined for centuries. The early Greek and Romans extracted asbestos, but from the late 1800s to the 1990s millions of tons of asbestos were mined here in the United States.
At one point, there were over 100 active asbestos mines in America with 60 sites on the East Coast alone. Other asbestos mines existed throughout the country, particularly in Washington, Oregon and California.
Today, the US bans asbestos mining. The last asbestos mine was shut down in 2002, but during the 1970s, asbestos mining was at its height. Hundreds of thousands worked directly and indirectly in asbestos mining and manufacturing asbestos-related products.
Extracting asbestos ore and processing it into raw materials exposed miners to airborne asbestos, putting them at extremely high risk for diseases like mesothelioma.
Asbestos Mining Techniques
There are two main mining techniques—open pit mining and underground mining or hard-rock mining. Open pit mining was the most common approach for harvesting asbestos from the earth. That’s entirely due to asbestos mineral characteristics.
Chrysotile asbestos is by far the most common asbestos used in manufacturing product. It has serpentine or soft fibers making them easy to work with. Chrysotile deposits are found close to the surface so open pits were the most effective and economical extraction method.
Amphibole asbestos is made of 5 subgroups. Amphibole accounted for a small percentage of overall asbestos mining but its long, stiff and sharp fibers made amphibole far more dangerous to miners’ health. Amphibole asbestos is found in deeper deposits making underground mining the only practical method.
Miners Roles and Responsibilities
Miner is a term for many roles and responsibilities. It’s a broad category that includes laborers, skilled tradespeople and professional engineers.
These are some of the mining roles that workers have in every mine, including those that worked extracting asbestos:
- Drillers and blasters
- Excavator operators
- Ore truck drivers
- Mechanics and maintenance workers
- Crusher, drier, vacuuming and packaging employees
- Geological, structural, civil and chemical engineers
- Drafters and computer technicians
- Clerical and supervisory support
Miners and Asbestos Exposure
Every miner working in the asbestos extraction industry had asbestos exposure. Tiny particles filled the air after being dislodged from the parent ore during blasting, hauling and processing. Open pit workers were less exposed than underground miners because of open air and winds dispersing asbestos fibers.
Underground mining was far riskier for asbestos exposure. These confined spaces trapped asbestos fibers and were difficult to ventilate. Compounding health risks to underground miners was the dangerous amphibole type they were seeking.
Indirect Asbestos Exposure in Miners
Miners were exposed to asbestos beyond the ore. All mines used heavy machinery that contained asbestos components. Brake linings and clutch facings were asbestos, and these friction parts produced microscopic fibers in their dust. Asbestos was used to insulate and fireproof machinery. It was also part of their buildings through flooring, roofing, drywall and other asbestos-made products.
Anyone working or living around asbestos mines were at risk for asbestos exposure. Clouds of asbestos dust emitted from open pits and blanketed nearby office buildings and workers. Asbestos fibers contaminated families through workers’ clothes and equipment brought home.
Other Mine Workers and Asbestos Exposure
Miners working in other types of ore mines also faced asbestos exposure threats. Some of their ore materials contained asbestos fibers as a by-product. They also used the same forms of machinery containing asbestos components.
Miners and Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Miners who inhaled asbestos fibers through their work had these tiny particles enter their lungs and impale themselves into the lung lining called the pleura. Asbestos fibers are impossible to exhale, and they permanently remain in the lungs.
Asbestos fibers eventually make scar tissue that turns into cancerous tumors or the disease known as mesothelioma. This can take decades to manifest. How mesothelioma forms depends on the amount of exposure, the duration and the type of asbestos a worker is in contact with.
Compensation for Miners With Mesothelioma
Compensation for lost income and medical expenses is available for miners who develop mesothelioma through workplace asbestos exposure. They’re also entitled to lay claims for personal injury damages. Families of mesothelioma victims have also filed successful applications on behalf of their ill relatives.
For more information on seeking justice for miners with mesothelioma, contact our Justice Support Team today.