Long exposure to asbestos while mining caused many miners to develop long term health complications later in life, specifically mesothelioma. The first recognition of these negative health implications were discovered in 1899 by Dr. Montague Murray, but protective legislation was not introduced until 1971, leaving miners to suffer. 

Asbestos Exposure and Miners

Asbestos are naturally occurring silicates extracted from the earth. Miners became exposed to these fibers during the extraction process when mining and milling. Exposure also occurred as a result of other minerals being contaminated with asbestos. 

Asbestos becomes dangerous when it is disturbed during extraction. A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study containing mine employment data from 2002 estimates that 44,000 miners and other workers were exposed to asbestos during the mining process alone. 

Once disturbed, the fibers in the air get into miners’ clothing, it is inhaled, and gets on skin. In the confined spaces of a mine, exposure and inhalation becomes more prominent. As a result of growing public health concerns and education, asbestos mining has decreased exponentially since 1971.

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Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Miners held various jobs that had potential to increase their asbestos contact. Some of these jobs included:

  • Truck drivers
  • Mine machine operators
  • Drillers and blasters
  • Engineers 
  • Maintenance workers
  • Clerical staff and supervisors

Another factor for exposure risk was their exposure to specific products on the site. Despite directly mining asbestos, which released fibers into the air, equipment used by miners also contained asbestos and increased chances of exposure. These products include:

  • Brake linings
  • Chemical pipes
  • Clutches
  • Continuous mining machines
  • Electrical components
  • Hoist machines
  • Hoses
  • Motor controls
  • Pumps
  • Shuttle cars
  • Starters
  • Switches
  • Valves
  • Wastewater removal piping
  • Winches
  • Heavy machinery

Chrysotile and Amphibole Asbestos

Asbestos is a generic term used to describe naturally occurring mineral silicates. In reality, there are two main series of asbestos known as serpentine and amphibole. 

Chrysotile is a serpentine also known as ‘white asbestos’. Chrysotile is the most predominantly used asbestos variety in the U.S., occurring largely in the Appalachian Mountains. In many asbestos air quality studies, chrysotile is the common fiber detected. Miners exposed to chrysotile showed a pattern of lung cancer, pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, gastrointestinal tract cancers, and cancer of the larynx.

The amphibole variety of asbestos includes actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite, crocidolite and tremolite. There are still open controversies as to whether specific types of asbestos cause different diseases and the potency of each type. As discussed by the NCBI, chrysotile is claimed to be less damaging as it does not stay present in the lungs as long as amphibole varieties. 

The main difference between chrysotile and amphibole effects on health is their structure. Amphibole varieties are harder and can survive in the human body longer.

Tremolite Asbestos and Libby, Montana

Health risks of asbestos exposure proved to be extremely dangerous for miners when a vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana caused a public health emergency. In 2009, more than ten years after initial complaints were made about potential exposure risks, the EPA declared a public health emergency. 

The Libby vermiculite mine was contaminated with tremolite,, a highly toxic variety of asbestos. After complaints were made to the EPA, the mine was placed on the National Priorities List. The eventual decision by the EPA to declare an emergency in Libby provided federal assistance to address health care for the victims of asbestos exposure.

The contamination of the city by this mine was so widespread, more than 7,600 properties were investigated and 2,600 were cleaned. Around one million cubic yards of contaminated soil had to be removed, taking eight years to complete.

Coal Mining and Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos exposure is common in coal mines as most equipment used by coal miners includes asbestos products. These products include brake linings, large cable reels, gloves for handling hot materials, welding blankets, thermal insulation, boilers, and pipelines. 

As with other underground mines, coal mining occurs in underground sealed spaces which causes disturbed asbestos particles to linger. This raises the risk of exposure as well as the potency of exposure. Although guidelines for asbestos exposure in above ground mines were set up, there were no formal exposure standards used for underground mines. 

Asbestos is also typically found where coal is being mined, therefore as the coal is being extracted there is high risk of disturbing asbestos within the mine. Each day coal miners go into the mine they face exposure to coal dust as well as asbestos, making coal mining an extremely dangerous job.

Compensation for Mesothelioma Victims

There are many available trust funds set up to help victims of asbestos exposure. If you believe that you have had or are currently experiencing an illness related to asbestos exposure, check to see if you qualify. If you know you are able to qualify, find out how much you can recieve.

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Written by Richard Stewart

Writer, Content Coordinator and Outreach Director

Richard Stewart is a writer, content coordinator and outreach director with over 12 years of experience covering asbestos exposure, mesothelioma, and treatment options. He is passionate about spreading awareness for asbestos and mesothelioma and helping victims find the information and resources they need online.

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