The Historical Presence of Asbestos in Oregon

By now, most people in the United States have become at least casually familiar with the idea that asbestos can be dangerous to humans and should be avoided when possible. Many people are also specifically aware that asbestos can cause mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other illnesses.

But a lot of people have never seen asbestos in its natural state and are surprised to learn that naturally occurring asbestos exists right here in Oregon. Moreover, it’s often not appreciated that the people of Oregon have endured more than their fair share of death and illness related to asbestos. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of Oregon’s historical ties to asbestos.

Understanding Asbestos

Most people think of asbestos as one specific substance. In fact, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the term “asbestos” actually refers to the following six different types of asbestos:

  • Actinolite asbestos
  • Amosite 
  • Anthophyllite asbestos 
  • Chrysotile
  • Crocidolite
  • Tremolite asbestos

Asbestos (in all its forms) is a mineral that is mined from the earth. In the past, asbestos has been mined right here in Oregon. 

The Popularity of Asbestos in Commercial Uses

Asbestos has properties that long made it popular for use in a variety of commercial applications. The fibers are strong, are resistant to heat and many chemicals, and insulate well. As such, it was a cheap solution for many needs.

Unfortunately, there is a big downside: if asbestos fibers become airborne, they can be inhaled, potentially causing serious health issues.

The Presence of Asbestos in Oregon

The USGS states that commercial asbestos mining operations existed in Oregon at three locations: the Mount Vernon deposit in Grant County; the Raspberry Creek deposit in Jackson County; and the L.E.J. asbestos mine in Josephine County. The USGS further reports that the Mount Vernon operation was intended to ramp up to production of as much as 5,000 pounds of asbestos per 8-hour shift.

But Oregonians have been exposed to asbestos in numerous other ways besides mining activities. For example, Oregon has enjoyed a rich shipbuilding history as a result of its coast. Unfortunately, shipyards were known to use asbestos frequently in shipbuilding efforts, thereby exposing many workers to the toxic substance.

Other examples abound. For instance, asbestos was also commonly used in construction products. As a result, people involved in commercial and residential construction and demolition activities may have been exposed. Even maintenance and custodial workers who work in old buildings have often been exposed to asbestos. The same is true for firefighters.

In addition, multiple factories and other worksites across the state have exposed employees to asbestos. Mechanics are another profession that sometimes have worked on parts containing asbestos. 

Disproportionate Impact of Asbestos on Oregonians

Oregon does not have a particularly large population. In fact, that’s one of the things many people love about the state. With approximately 4 million residents, Oregon ranks 27th in total population.

However, Oregon currently ranks 19th in the United States for the most deaths occurring from mesothelioma and asbestosis with 619 mesothelioma deaths and 169 asbestosis deaths. This is a slight improvement from a study that ranked Oregon 15th highest for asbestos-related deaths for the years 1979 to 2001. Of course, there are many more people who are living but show symptoms of illness.

Why People Get Sick Even After Governmental and Private Sector Curbs on the Use of Asbestos

Fortunately, far fewer people are exposed to asbestos now than in the past. Moreover, when exposure is required, the government has implemented many more safety rules to protect workers. The problem is that asbestos-related disease can take years, and even decades, to fully develop. Therefore, people who were exposed many years ago before these changes took place are still getting sick.

Call with Questions

If you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos, we know it can be a scary time and that you likely have many questions. We are here and ready to answer those questions if you give us a call. We strongly believe that the best way to make society safer for everyone is to hold accountable those who do wrong.


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