Thursday, February 23, 2006

The health effects of white asbestos

The health effects of white asbestos

Chrysotile is an established carcinogen and there is no safe threshold

WHEN THE towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York collapsed in September 2001, they released a cloud of hazardous material that included 2000 tonnes of asbestos.

In a ruling on a class action suit filed by people who say they were exposed to this hazard, on February 2, 2006, Judge Deborah Batts chastised the US Environmental Protection Agency for having first assured that the clouds were safe from asbestos and later admitting to this misinformation, calling their assurances as `conscience-shocking'.

The asbestos used at the WTC is what is known as `white asbestos' or chrysotile as it is chemically known. This form of asbestos is being used in the U.S., India and many other countries with the belief that of the various forms of asbestos, chrysotile is the safest.

The basic message

The Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association of India (ASCMA), during the Clemenceau controversy, issued a public interest advertisement stating that (a) chrysotile or white asbestos, when used under controlled conditions, does not pose any risk to health (b) chrysotile fibres are locked as a 8-9 per cent component in a cement matrix which prevents them from escaping into the air, and (c) asbestos occurs in nature and a lot of asbestos fibres are inhaled by us everyday full story>>

1 comment:

blog administrator said...

Chrysotile (white) asbestos is indeed a Category 1 carcinogen. So is alcohol yet we drink it daily, so is the contraceptive pill but millions of women take it daily too, and just to drive the point home, so is nickel alloy but the euro coins are made from it and we haven't lost half the EU just yet.

The point I am trying to make here is that although chrysotile is a category 1 carcinogen, everything is dose related. If you have a headache you take an aspirin, yet a whole bottle will kill you. Eat 1000 oranges a day, and that will probably kill you too. So where do you draw the line?

There is no doubt that blue and brown asbestos fibres are dangerous to human health. Studies prove this time and time again, and the diseases from exposure to these debilitating. However the issue of white asbestos is less cut and dried, and as yet, there is no proven case of white asbestos having caused a death in the UK to date.

There are indeed reports suggesting that there are health risks associated with white asbestos; these are often older and confused with 'asbestos in general', or use levels of chrysotile that no one would ever be exposed to even if they lived in chrysotile mines, or often just plain refuted by later, repeated research.

Out of those 141 'chrysotile is bad' papers quoted in the article, it is interesting they don't note how many provide the other point of view.

Indeed, there is a new report out (Bernstein et al, 2006) proving that there is no measurable risk to health from chrysotile. Indeed, at 5000 times the US accepted level of exposure, there is still no measurable risk.

What people choose to believe is their perogative, however, it would be sensible if people stripped away the emotive nature of the asbestos debate and looked at the science in a practical light. There is a lot of asbestos science out there that people can not see for being blinded by 'asbestos kills' propoganda. If people took the time to read into the science, not the hype, there would be less exploitation occuring.

Has anyone wondered why this is being propagated so vehemntly? Saving people's lives is a good motive for sure, but not the only one out there. There are many industries and professions standing to make a lot of money by having all asbestos producs removed from buildings, insurance cases brought to light, and regulations on handling asbestos tightened.

By scaring people into believing asbestos is a problem, the abatement industry has a blank cheque, no win no fee lawyers have a field day, and homeowners live in fear.

It would be nice to have a voice of reason somewhere along the line, without vested interests, who will let people know the dangers they face, as and when they face them, but not scare half the nation into believing they are at risk by merely brushing against a white asbestos garage roof.

For those worried about anything asbestos related, however, Asbestos Watchdog ( is a useful independent resource of information. Whether worried about the health impacts of asbestos exposure, or worried that their ignorance may be being exploited by unscrupulous companies, anyone with any concerns can contact the Watchdog on their free helpline. I hope this is of use to some people.