From asbestos to chrysotile

Asbestos is a generic commercial name given to a fibrous variety of six naturally occurring minerals. They are subdivided into two groups varying in their chemical composition, technological properties, and the degree of their potency as a health hazard when inhaled: serpentine and amphibole asbestos.

From the beginning of the 20th century to 1970s absolutely all types of asbestos were widely used in manufacturing different products and in heat and insulation materials for buildings, ships, and electric power plants.

Poor occupational conditions, outdated technologies causing high dust concentrations in the workplace air, insufficient attention to personal protective equipment, and poorly understood aspects of health effects of different types of asbestos resulted in a high prevalence of asbestos-related diseases among workers.

Under pressure from environmental movements and trade unions the issue of asbestos drew attention of governmental bodies, environmental organizations, and scientists. Numerous scientific studies have been conducted since then, and their main findings are as follows:

  1. Health effects of different types of asbestos vary. The health risk from exposure to amphibole asbestos (amosite, crocidolite, anthophillite, and tremolite) is the highest. The production and use of amphiboles have been banned worldwide.
  2. Chrysotile poses the least health risk even compared to substitute man-made and natural (e.g., cellulose) fibers since its fibers are easily cleared from lungs.
  3. Spray-on application of friable asbestos to structural steel in buildings, ship, etc. for heat and fire insulation posed the greatest danger. This technique has been also banned for use.

Thus, chrysotile is the only asbestos fiber commercialized today. This mineral is well studied; such reputable organizations as the WHO and ILO have made their conclusions on it. Taking into account the lessons learnt in the past, chrysotile producers carry out the policy of a controlled and responsible use of chrysotile aimed at minimizing health risks and occupational risks in particular.

However, asbestos opponents do not differentiate between various types of asbestos in their propaganda campaigns although it is common knowledge that amphiboles have always been the main cause of asbestos-related diseases.

Chrysotile has become a victim of the trade war for the sales market unleashed by powerful and influential transnational corporations. This war is characterized by a disinformation campaign, the goal of which is to create and maintain panic that is even more groundless since the criticized techniques and practice have not been applied for over 25 years now. At the same time, issues of the relative risk of substitute fibers claimed “environmentally friendly and safe” by their producers have become particularly urgent. Having the structure similar to that of asbestos, these fibers are not safe either; besides, their health effects are poorly understood.