Health Group Urges Reassessment of Asbestos as Human Health Risk

By ACSH Staff — Oct 15, 2007
Asbestos_cover New York, New York—October 15, 2007. Scientists and physicians associated with the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) question whether typical asbestos exposures pose a substantial risk to human health.

Asbestos_cover New York, New York—October 15, 2007. Scientists and physicians associated with the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) question whether typical asbestos exposures pose a substantial risk to human health. Although inhalation of high levels of asbestos fibers from occupational exposures has been linked to lung diseases, the effects of different types of fibers in non-occupational exposures is much less clear. It appears health effects vary radically depending on which of two different types of asbestos fiber is involved, a point rarely made in media accounts. These issues are clarified in a new publication from ACSH, Asbestos Exposure: How Risky Is It?

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals found in the earth’s crust. There are two main types of asbestos fibers used for commercial applications—chrysotile and amphibole fibers. The great majority of asbestos employed in the United States is of the chrysotile type, which has a variety of industrial uses—and appears to be the far less dangerous of the two major types of fiber. Chrysotile has been used for insulation, and for brake linings in cars, trucks, and other vehicles, for example, as well as myriad other applications for which its flame resistant characteristics are valued.

Inhalation of asbestos fibers has been linked to lung diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma—particularly in occupational settings. But exactly which types of fibers pose real risks is not totally clear because of a lack of accurate historical exposure information—i.e., it is not always clear what types of asbestos fibers were involved, or even the level to which individuals were exposed. Importantly, in some epidemiologic studies it wasn’t clear if confounding factors, such as smoking (which of course is a major cause of lung disease) were taken into account.

Recent research indicates that chrysotile fibers are much less likely than are amphibole fibers to cause human disease. Further, current regulatory guidelines do not take such differences into account, nor are they in agreement with current understanding of the risks posed by ambient asbestos exposures. According to Dr. Gilbert L. Ross, ACSH medical director, “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does a disservice to Americans when it uses outdated information to set regulatory guidelines for asbestos exposures. It provides fodder for unsubstantiated health scares rather than sound, science-based information for health preservation.”

At ACSH.org, readers can download the full report, Asbestos Exposure: How Risky Is It?

Contact:
Dr. Gilbert Ross, 212-362-7044 x242, rossg@acsh.org

The American Council on Science and Health is an independent, non-profit consumer education organization concerned with issues related to food, nutrition, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, lifestyle, the environment and health.