Occupational exposure to asbestos in the steel industry (1972–2006)

Dennis J. Paustenbach*, Michael E. Stevens, Brett P. Tuttle, Ross A. Shore, Sabina Ligas, David W. Brew

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Historically, the use of asbestos in steelmaking has been limited to a few applications. Due to its physical and chemical properties, asbestos was not necessary or suitable for most purposes in a steel mill. The few applications where asbestos were used (i.e., certain gaskets, brakes, protective cloth, refractory materials, insulation materials, and hot top products) were replaced by alternative materials as they became available. Objective: We discuss historical uses of asbestos in steel manufacturing and the associated airborne asbestos concentrations collected at sixteen U. S. Steel facilities between 1972 and 2006. Methods: A total of 495 personal airborne asbestos samples from the U. S. Steel industrial hygiene records were analyzed across four time periods corresponding to changes in the OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) for asbestos. 68% of the samples (n = 337) were considered representative of an employee’s workday. The remaining samples (n = 158) represented task samples. Samples were grouped by facility, department, and job category within the four time periods. Results: The average fiber concentrations measured for each facility and department over time were below the contemporaneous OSHA PEL. The mean representative workday asbestos air concentration from 1972 and 1975 was 1.09 f/cc. The mean representative workday concentration decreased to 0.13 f/cc between 1976 and 1985, then decreased again to 0.02 f/cc between 1986 and 1993 and 0.03 f/cc between 1994 and 2006. For task samples, the mean air concentration from 1972 to 1975 was 3.29 f/cc. The mean task sample concentration decreased to 0.48 f/cc between 1976 and 1985, then decreased again to 0.01 f/cc between 1986 and 1993 and 0.03 f/cc between 1994 and 2006. Only eleven out of the 495 samples (2.2%), for both task and representative workday samples, were in exceedance of the contemporaneous PEL(as an 8-hour TWA), ten of which occurred prior to 1978. Eight of these eleven PEL exceeding samples were task samples. Of the remaining three representative workday samples, two had unknown sampling times. Impact: This paper presents an analysis of all the available personal sampling data for airborne asbestos across 16 facilities of the U. S. Steel Corporation between 1972 and 2006. This dataset has previously never been publicly shared or analyzed. It represents one of the more complete industrial hygiene datasets from a corporation to be presented in a scientific journal and, due to the similarities in the processes at each mill, it should reflect analogous exposures throughout the steelmaking industry in the United States. One of the benefits of presenting these data is that it also provides insight into where asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were used in the steel making process. This is just one example of a large firm that released information that had previously remained in file cabinets for decades. We believe that another benefit of publishing this paper is that it may encourage the largest firms in industry to assemble and analyze their industrial hygiene data to benefit the occupational hygiene, medical, and epidemiology communities. This can support future epidemiology studies and improve the design of future industrial hygiene programs.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology
StateAccepted/In press - 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Asbestos
  • Exposure assessment
  • Industrial hygiene
  • Risk assessment
  • Steel mill workers


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