Global demand for asbestos increased after the war as economies and countries struggled to rebuild. U.S. consumption also grew in the post-war years because of a massive expansion of the American economy as well as sustained construction of military hardware during the Cold War.
U.S. consumption of asbestos peaked in 1973 at 804,000 tons. Peak world demand for asbestos was realized around 1977. Some 25 countries were producing almost 4.8 million metric tons per year, and 85 countries were producing thousands of asbestos products.
But by the late 1970s, a dramatic decline began in the use of asbestos throughout the industrialized nations. The public was beginning to understand the connection between asbestos exposure and debilitating lung diseases.
Organized labor and trade unions were demanding safer and healthier working conditions, and liability claims against major asbestos manufacturers caused many of them to make and market asbestos substitutes.
In 2005, asbestos was banned throughout the European Union. In recent years, many of the world’s emerging economies have embraced the use of asbestos as eagerly as more developed nations did for much of the last century.
An estimated 125 million people worldwide remain at risk of occupational exposure to asbestos. About 1.3 million U.S. workers in construction and general industry are at risk of exposure today. The term asbestos refers to six fibrous minerals that occur naturally throughout the world. Chrysotile is by far the most widely used type of asbestos.