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Fact: White asbestos kills

The International Agency for Research on Cancer categorises asbestos as a Group 1 Carcinogen, meaning that it is definitely carcinogenic to humans. All types of asbestos cause mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is not dose related so any exposure to asbestos gives rise to the risk of the disease.

There were 2,538 mesothelioma deaths in Great Britain in 2013. Men who worked in the building industry when asbestos was used extensively are now among those most at risk of mesothelioma. Asbestos building products contained only chrysotile (white) from 1970, although a few asbestos products contained amosite (brown) until 1980.

Throughout industrial history the vast majority of asbestos mined and produced worldwide was chrysotile. In 1965, one of the years of highest imports of asbestos into the UK, 173,350 tonnes of asbestos were imported but of this 147,265 tonnes was chrysotile (white), nearly 85% of the total. Less than 2% was crocidolite (blue). All imports of blue asbestos and brown asbestos had stopped by 1983, indeed the recorded tonnage figures indicate that imports of blue asbestos ceased in 1970.

In a 2012 study, scientists at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the United Nations’ World Health Organization, reported on the rates of both lung cancer and mesothelioma in groups of people exposed to asbestos. They suggested that the best way to estimate asbestos-related lung cancer in a population is based on the number of mesothelioma deaths for that group. Their analysis suggested that there are between 3.2 to 4 lung cancer deaths for every mesothelioma death among individuals exposed to asbestos.

A 2014 review by the World Health Organization stated that in workers exposed to chrysotile lung cancer deaths are six times higher than mesothelioma deaths. According to the most recent WHO estimates, more than 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related disease resulting from exposure at work.

Asbestos industry sponsored propaganda and “scientific publications” about white asbestos being fluffy and “safe” are at odds with the facts. A look at the ratio of white asbestos as opposed to other types of asbestos imported would seem to confirm that exposure to chrysotile is responsible for many asbestos deaths in the UK. Indeed most of the clients we are seeing now were exposed to asbestos post 1970 and to materials that contained only chrysotile.