The Danger of Asbestos

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was commonly mined, produced, and consumed in the United States throughout the 1900s. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed the mineral as a carcinogen in 1970, at the height of its use.

Asbestos, known for its durability and heat resistance, was used as insulation and in building materials. Its versatility made asbestos a significant part of California’s economy. The state used asbestos along its coastline in Navy ships and shipyards, exposing the toxic mineral to thousands of people.

A form of cancer called mesothelioma can develop in the linings of the lungs, abdomen, or thoracic cavity up to several decades after initial asbestos exposure. Once airborne asbestos fibers become inhaled or ingested, they cannot be removed, and the risk of developing cancer increases.

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Asbestos Use in California Industries

In California, 45 out of 58 counties contain naturally occurring deposits of asbestos. For a majority of the 1900s, the mineral made its way across multiple markets throughout California.


Along the coastline of California, around 20 major shipyards integrated asbestos into their ships’ insulation, pipes, flooring, and walls.

Oil Industry

The oil industry across California used asbestos throughout the drilling and delivery of oil. The state currently operates over 20 offshore oil platforms and 21 oil refineries, many of which were built using asbestos.

Power Plants

California is home to numerous industrial plants that used asbestos as insulation. These kinds of power plants include:

  • Biomass
  • Coal
  • Geothermal
  • Hydroelectric
  • Nuclear
  • Solar
  • Wind


Natural deposits of asbestos are located throughout the whole state, including some of the largest sites in the world. Traces of asbestos has also been found in coal, talc, gold, and copper mines.

Who’s at Risk?

The use of asbestos-containing products puts thousands of California workers at risk. The most common occupations that come into contact with asbestos are:

  • Auto mechanics
  • Asbestos plant manufacturers
  • Boiler workers
  • Brick masons
  • Carpenters
  • Construction workers
  • Demolition workers
  • Drywall workers
  • Electricians
  • Factory workers
  • Firefighters
  • Industrial plant workers
  • Insulators
  • Machine operators
  • Mill workers
  • Military personnel and veterans
  • Miners
  • Painters
  • Pipefitters
  • Plumbers
  • Power Plant workers
  • Railroad workers
  • Roofers
  • Sailors
  • Shipyard workers
  • Steel mill workers
  • Teachers
  • Tile setters

Men and women who serve in the military are also put at a greater risk of asbestos exposure. Military occupations at risk of asbestos exposure include:

Air Force

  • Aircraft handler
  • Aircraft Mechanic
  • Electrical systems specialist
  • Environmental systems specialist
  • Fire control technician
  • Metalsmith


Coast Guard

Marine Corps


  • Boatswain’s mate
  • Damage controlman
  • Gunner’s mate
  • Hull maintenance technician
  • Machinery repairman
  • Machinist’s mate
  • Metalsmith
  • Pipefitter
  • Radioman
  • Seabee
  • Water tender
  • Welder

California Superfund Sites and Shipyards

Ships line the shores of California, most of which are located near Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. The EPA names certain contaminated sites consisting of hazardous waste such as asbestos to its Superfund list.

Congress established Superfund, formally known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), in 1980. Under CERCLA, the EPA funds the cleanup of each contaminated site and its adjacent communities. California consists of several asbestos Superfund sites.

Atlas Asbestos Mine – Coalinga, California

The Atlas Asbestos Mine occupies about 435 acres of land in California. From 1963 until 1979, operation of the mine took place, mining and processing extensive amounts of asbestos. Years of operation lead to contamination in the air, surface water, sediment, and soil in surrounding areas.

George Air Force Base – Victoryville, California

During War II, the United States established the George Air Force Base on 5,347 acres of California land. The purpose of the base was to provide training for aircrews and maintenance personnel, in which they disposed of hazardous materials like asbestos. In 1990, the EPA began mandating the cleanup of the site.

South Bay Asbestos Area – Alviso, California

The South Bay Asbestos Area site contained three landfills that received asbestos wastes from an asbestos-cement pipe manufacturer from 1953 to 1982. The EPA mandated cleanup of the site, which is still monitored for asbestos today.

Bethlehem Steel Shipyard – San Francisco, California

Bethlehem Steel Shipyard is one of the oldest shipyards in the state. Founded in 1849 as the Union Brass and Iron Works, the shipyard was a major construction site for warships on the West Coast. Following World War II, the shipyard shifted to a repair site, where toxic asbestos contaminated the site.

Naval Base San Diego – North Island Shipyard

The North Island Shipyard became the main port for aircraft carriers in the Pacific Fleet shortly after its establishment in 1910. The naval base quickly became one of the largest U.S. operated bases, exposing asbestos to people for decades.

Long Beach Naval Shipyard – Terminal Island

In 1940, Terminal Island became home to the Long Beach Naval Shipyard. For 57 years, the shipyard operated near Los Angeles. Over the years, many of the ships exposed asbestos to many individuals.

San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard – Mare Island and Hunter’s Point

The Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard combined operations with the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in 1965 to create the San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard. Five years later, Hunter’s Point left, while the Mare Island Naval Shipyard operated until 1996. Both sites contributed to the exposure of asbestos in insulation, gaskets, and wastes throughout the shipyard.

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Asbestos in California Homes

Before 2004, Many homes in California were built will asbestos-containing products. Insulation products, cottage-cheese ceilings, vinyl floor tiles, textured paints, and other materials in homes built in the last 50 years commonly contained asbestos.

Federal law does not require the seller of a home to disclose that their home contains asbestos, putting potential buyers at risk of asbestos exposure.

California Asbestos Regulation

The EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulate the exposure of asbestos around workers. The EPA enforces regulations in favor of protecting the general public from hazards.

Asbestos is still not banned in the United States. While certain applications of asbestos are banned, California residents still risk exposure. To learn more about asbestos and mesothelioma, download our free mesothelioma guide.

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