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Between 1910 and 2002, South Africa mined more than 10 million tons of asbestos. The last of the nation’s asbestos mines ceased production in 2001 and closed down the following year. South Africa outlawed all types of asbestos by 2008, but the once-lucrative industry has left the environment polluted. Asbestos exposure risks continue to threaten the well-being of South Africans to this day.

South Africa once operated numerous mines that provided the bulk of the world’s supply of the mineral. Over the years, mining at these sites caused large-scale occupational and environmental exposures to toxic dust.

The South African asbestos mines were owned by subsidiaries of major European corporations, including Griqualand Exploration and Finance Company Ltd., Turner & Newall Ltd., and the Cape Asbestos Company. These corporations cared little about the welfare of their South African workers or the people who lived near the mines. Health and safety standards at the South African mines were incredibly poor, especially compared with the mines the companies operated in Europe.

Because many of the South African mineworkers — including women and children — were largely undocumented, it is difficult to assess the true scope of harm the mines caused. The country reports about 200 cases of mesothelioma per year, but most likely this is an underestimate.

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