All forms of asbestos cause cancer. There has been a persistent myth, however, that some forms of asbestos are safe. Often, these myths are rooted in studies funded by industries that have used, or still currently use, chrysolite asbestos.
Chrysotile asbestos was the most commonly used form of asbestos in the 20th century, and is still found today in a number of products and buildings. Despite warnings from the National Cancer Institute, the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization that no level of exposure to any form of asbestos is safe, some still claim that chrysotile asbestos poses less of a risk than other forms of asbestos.
Serpentine vs. amphibole asbestos
There are two main varieties of asbestos: serpentine and amphibole. Serpentine asbestos is chrysotile asbestos, sometimes referred to as “white asbestos.” The other forms of asbestos are amphibole.
Past arguments have claimed that because chrysotile asbestos has a different chemical makeup than the other asbestos types, it is less dangerous. This has never been proven, and it does not make chrysotile asbestos safe in any case.
Chrysotile asbestos causes cancer
In 2014, the World Health Organization strongly recommended that all countries ban the use of all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile asbestos. Importantly, the authors noted that there has never been an established threshold for how much of what type of asbestos causes cancer. In other words, there is NO safe level of exposure to ANY TYPE of asbestos. The World Heath Organization, in a 2014 research assessment, concluded that:
The firm conclusion of the WHO and IARC assessments is that chrysotile causes cancer of the lung, larynx and ovary, mesothelioma and asbestosis, whether or not it is less potent than amphibole types of asbestos in doing so.
Chrysotile asbestos is carcinogenic. Even if one were to assert (without proof) that it is less dangerous than other types of asbestos, chrysotile is still dangerous. Arguing that chrysotile asbestos isn’t dangerous is like arguing that a house fire cannot cause injury because wood doesn’t burn as hot as the sun.
The fact is, asbestos was used long past when businesses and the medical community knew it was dangerous. Persistent myths about the supposed safety of some types of asbestos need to be put to rest once and for all, and the use of all asbestos needs to be eliminated.