Mine workers may have experienced asbestos exposure from various mining activities. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. For years, companies mined for asbestos and added the raw mineral to products. Previous and current mine workers may be at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.

01. Asbestos Risk for Mine Workers

How Are Mine Workers Exposed to Asbestos?

Mine workers may have experienced asbestos exposure through normal work activities. For decades, companies mined for asbestos in natural mineral deposits.

Asbestos mining can stir up its harmful fibers, allowing workers to inhale or ingest them. Asbestos exposure may later lead to diseases, such as malignant mesothelioma.

Workers in other types of mines are also at risk for asbestos exposure. Asbestos deposits often occur near other minerals such as talc, copper and zinc. These mine workers may have disturbed asbestos while mining for different minerals.

Facts About Mine Workers
  • 143,700 mine workers in the United States (2022)
  • Asbestos Exposure: Previous and ongoing exposure risk
  • Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: High
  • Similar Occupations: Equipment operators, laborers, freight workers

Asbestos was popular for being durable and fire resistant. Until regulations in the 1980s, many companies added asbestos to their products. For instance, mining equipment manufacturers regularly added it to machinery such as drills.

It was common for miners to operate a variety of asbestos-containing machinery. Today, mine workers may use older equipment with asbestos parts. The history of asbestos makes mine workers a high-risk occupation for asbestos exposure.

What Asbestos Products Put Mine Workers at Risk?

Mine workers have been at risk for asbestos exposure for decades. Asbestos use is now restricted in the U.S., but there is still an ongoing occupational exposure risk for mine workers.

Companies put mine workers in danger of asbestos exposure through regular mining duties. Excavating minerals loosens dust and other fibers, including asbestos. Until 2002, asbestos itself was actively mined in the United States.

Workers may be exposed to asbestos when mining for the mineral. There is also a risk of asbestos exposure when mining other mineral deposits. These minerals, such as talc and zinc, often occur near asbestos.

Without proper protective equipment, mine workers could easily inhale or ingest asbestos. The asbestos dust could also settle on their clothing, which mine workers may later carry home. This may put family members at risk of exposure, as well.

Asbestos companies also used the harmful mineral as an additive for years. Asbestos is affordable and fire resistant, making it popular for high-heat products.

Mining equipment often contained asbestos parts. Old equipment may still contain these parts. As a result, mine workers may be exposed to asbestos while operating or repairing asbestos-contaminated machinery.

Mine workers may have been exposed to asbestos from:

Asbestos product manufacturers and mine companies endangered mine workers’ health. If exposed, workers may later develop asbestos-related illnesses.

Despite asbestos regulations, mine workers are still at risk of exposure. Until there is a full asbestos ban, old mining equipment and machinery may put mine workers at continued risk. Mining for other minerals may also pose an exposure risk near any natural asbestos deposits.

Asbestos Manufacturers and Mining Companies That Put Miners at Risk

Common Places Asbestos Is Found in the Mining Industry

Mine workers may have had their highest risk of asbestos exposure while mining. They may have mined for asbestos or for other minerals that developed near asbestos. Through regular mining operations, they may have disturbed asbestos.

The U.S. has natural asbestos deposits scattered throughout the country. In total, reports show there were around 65 active asbestos mines in the U.S. Georgia, North Carolina and Wyoming were prominent asbestos mining states.

These deposits often occurred near enstatite, quartz and vermiculite. Libby, Montana, is home to a vermiculite mine, which W.R. Grace mined for years. While active, this mine was the top global producer of vermiculite. Libby vermiculite is now known to be contaminated with asbestos.

As a result, miners and residents have experienced lasting health issues. There are similar concerns with talc. Mining for any of these minerals puts workers at risk of asbestos exposure.

Talc and Asbestos Risks

Talc is a mineral that companies have added to products since the 1800s. It is commonly used in personal care products, such as cosmetics and baby powder. In recent decades, asbestos contamination of talc has been a concern.

Talc itself is safe, but it occurs alongside asbestos. During mining, it is difficult to separate the two minerals. As a result, talc mine workers risk exposure. Agencies have also tested many talc products and found ongoing asbestos contamination. This puts consumers of these products at risk of asbestos exposure.

Asbestos mines that may have exposed mine workers include:

  • A.E. Berrong property
  • Alders mine
  • American Asbestos Company mine
  • Andrew Gennett property
  • Asbestos Mining and Manufacturing Co. (Hollywood) mine
  • Blue Rock mine
  • Bok asbestos mine
  • Brockton mine
  • Bryson mine
  • Burleson mine
  • C-area quarry
  • C.W. Allen prospect (Cane River mine)
  • Casper Mountain asbestos deposits
  • Chattooga River prospect
  • Coldsides Mountain mine
  • Commissioner Creek prospect
  • Daniels quarry (Alberton deposit)
  • Dillard prospect
  • Eden quarry
  • Fire King deposit
  • Frank mine
  • Gladwyne quarries
  • H.V.M. Miller mine
  • Henderson mine
  • Hicks Asbestos mine
  • Higdon mine
  • Hinsdale mine
  • Holden mine
  • J.C. Woody mine
  • Jenkins (Todd) mine
  • Jennings No. 1 mine
  • Jennings No. 2 mine
  • Johns River mine
  • Joseph L. Chambless property
  • Kamiah asbestos deposits
  • Karst asbestos mine
  • Kilpatrick mine
  • L.D. Garland property
  • L.M. Arnold and E.R. Arnold properties
  • Laurel Creek mine
  • Lowell quarry
  • Manus mine
  • McCoy mine
  • Miller mine
  • Neikirk mine
  • Newdale mine
  • Nicholson estate mine
  • Oakland mine
  • Pelham asbestos quarry
  • Peterman mine
  • Reid mine
  • Rockdale (Jacob Side’s) pits
  • Round Mountain mine
  • Sall Mountain Company property
  • Sall Mountain mine
  • Sam Grindstaff mine
  • Sapphire mine
  • Smedley’s asbestos mine
  • Smith Creek deposit
  • Thrash prospect
  • Village Green (Hannum) asbestos pits
  • Walnut Cove mine

Mining activities often took place below ground in enclosed spaces. Poor ventilation may increase the risk of asbestos exposure, as the dust can collect.

Protective equipment varied with time and mining companies. While respirators and other gear are standard now, it was once common for mine workers to wear much less. During the years of asbestos mining, many companies provided only a helmet and lamp.

Mine Workers and At-Risk Trades

The mining industry is diverse with many jobs related to mine workers. Typical job responsibilities put them at risk for occupational asbestos exposure.

The mining industry supplied asbestos manufacturing companies with the raw mineral. Workers at asbestos manufacturing plants were also at risk for exposure.

At-risk trades in the mining industry include:

  • Asbestos miners
  • Coal miners
  • Crane operators
  • Drilling engineer
  • Engineering geologists
  • Excavators
  • Geologists
  • Machine maintenance workers
  • Machine operators
  • ​​Metallurgists
  • Mining engineers
  • Oil miners
  • Open cut examiners
  • Petroleum engineers
  • Pipefitters
  • Riggers/doggers

Consumption and production of asbestos decreased in the 1980s with more regulations. While the U.S. no longer mines the mineral, other countries continue to mine and use asbestos. As a result, imports may still contain asbestos. Workers in the mining industry may still be at risk of exposure.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimated the U.S. imported 300 tons of raw asbestos in 2020. This was nearly double the amount of asbestos imported the previous year. Ongoing use of asbestos endangers workers and the general public.

02. Mesothelioma Risk for Mine Workers

Mesothelioma Risk for Mine Workers

Mining for asbestos and other minerals put mine workers and nearby residents at risk. Mining equipment and machinery also may contain asbestos parts. Scientists have linked specific diseases to asbestos, such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Activities such as drilling may release asbestos fibers from equipment or mineral deposits. Mine workers may experience asbestos exposure from these activities.

Mining activities may also contaminate the air, earth and groundwater. This may expose surrounding communities to ongoing asbestos contamination. In some cases, such as the mines in Libby, Montana, this exposure can last for decades.

Asbestos-related diseases such as asbestos cancers may take decades to develop. Generations of mine workers and residents may experience long-lasting health issues from asbestos.

Increased Mesothelioma Risk Among Asbestos Miners in Italy

In 2020, an Italian study looked at chrysotile asbestos miners’ mortality and mesothelioma incidence. Researchers analyzed asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, peritoneal cancer and pleural cancer.

Among mine workers, there was a mortality increase for each disease. Mesothelioma incidence (or diagnosis) rate increased with longer periods of exposure among the workers. The incidence rate also increased with more time since exposure.

Scientists concluded that asbestos exposure increases the risk of asbestos diseases for miners.

Increased Risk of Asbestos-Related Diseases in Libby

A study published in 2020 evaluated the asbestos-related mortality rates in Libby, Montana. This study was a follow-up to one that took place from 2001 to 2002.

Libby was once the largest global producer of vermiculite. Vermiculite is a mineral that often develops near asbestos, as Libby vermiculite had. Companies such as W.R. Grace mined here for decades.

The follow-up study found Libby residents and workers had a higher-than-expected rate of asbestos-related mortality. By 2016, 1,429 of the 8,043 participants had passed away. Research showed “deaths from asbestosis and mesothelioma were in excess compared with those of the U.S.”

Research shows a correlation between asbestos diseases and mines. Mine workers and local communities may have an elevated risk of developing asbestos-related conditions.

03. Compensation for Mine Workers

Compensation for Victims of Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Some people who worked at or lived near mines have developed asbestos-related diseases. Many of these victims have filed lawsuits against asbestos companies for negligence. Mesothelioma lawyers have helped victims secure millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts.

For years, there were no asbestos regulations. However, many companies knew about the health risks of asbestos and continued to mine it. These companies may be held accountable for endangering mine workers and residents.

Asbestos Victims in Libby, Montana Win $43 Million Settlement

In 2011, a Montana judge approved a $43 million settlement for Libby asbestos victims. For decades, W.R. Grace mined asbestos-contaminated vermiculite in the town. State agencies also failed to warn residents of the associated dangers.

As a result, asbestos-related diseases continue to affect Libby residents and mine workers. The settlement compensated more than 1,000 victims.

Asbestos companies put the health of mine workers and their families at risk. In many cases, they put entire communities and towns in danger. Experienced mesothelioma law firms have been holding asbestos companies accountable for years.

Mine workers may also qualify for compensation through other claim types. Mesothelioma lawyers can help victims understand if they are eligible for claims such as asbestos trust fund claims or workers’ compensation.

04. Asbestos Safety

Asbestos Safety for Mine Workers

In the 1980s, the U.S. implemented federal asbestos laws and regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces many of these. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces workplace standards.

A specific U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) division oversees the mining industry. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) works to improve safety for miners. MSHA analyzes data for safety practices, such as asbestos handling and disposal.

As a result, the agency sometimes revises existing asbestos standards. In 2005 for example, MSHA proposed a lower limit for asbestos exposure levels while mining. Strengthening asbestos restrictions may help protect mine workers from asbestos-related diseases.