Despite consistent health warnings, asbestos mining and manufacturing was an engine that could not be stopped. In 1910, world production exceeded 109,000 metric tons, more than three times the total in 1900.
In the United States, increased consumption stemmed from the population’s growing demand for cost-effective, mass-produced construction materials. Asbestos products filled that need. The U.S. quickly became the world leader in asbestos usage, with neighboring Canada furnishing a steady supply. In fact, the onset of World War I, followed by the Great Depression, temporarily slowed the asbestos industry’s exponential growth. The start of World War II revived that growth.
While mining and manufacturing during WWII actually declined in many asbestos-producing countries, Canada, South Africa and the U.S. were able to supply much of America’s increasing wartime need of the minerals. U.S. asbestos consumption by 1942 had increased to about 60 percent of world production, up from 37 percent in 1937. Heavy use of asbestos by the U.S. military eventually led to high rates of mesothelioma in veterans.
Mesothelioma is a direct result of asbestos exposure and occurs when microscopic asbestos fibers are ingested or inhaled, ultimately reaching the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Due to the military’s heavy use of asbestos throughout all branches, about one-third of mesothelioma diagnoses are veterans.