The hazards of chrysotile asbestos: a critical review

Ind Health. 1999 Jul;37(3):271-80. doi: 10.2486/indhealth.37.271.


Chrysotile, or "white", asbestos is the dominant form of asbestos in international commerce today. It accounts for 99% of current world asbestos production of 2 million tonnes. Chrysotile is an extremely hazardous material. Clinical and epidemiologic studies have established incontrovertibly that chrysotile causes cancer of the lung, malignant mesothelioma of the pleura and peritoneum, cancer of the larynx and certain gastrointestinal cancers. Chrysotile also causes asbestosis, a progressive fibrous disease of the lungs. Risk of these diseases increases with cumulative lifetime exposure to chrysotile and rises also with increasing time interval (latency) since first exposure. Comparative analyses have established that chrysotile is 2 to 4 times less potent than crocidolite asbestos in its ability to cause malignant mesothelioma, but of equal potency of causation of lung cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization has declared chrysotile asbestos a proven human carcinogen. Sales of chrysotile asbestos have virtually ended in Western Europe and North America, because of widespread recognition of its health hazards. However, asbestos sales remain strong in Japan, across Asia and in developing nations worldwide. The claim has been made that chrysotile asbestos can be used "safely" under "certain conditions" in those nations. That claim is not accurate. The Collegium Ramazzini, an international learned society in environmental and occupational medicine, has called for an immediate worldwide ban on all sales and uses of all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile. The rationale for this ban is threefold: (1) that safer substitute materials are readily available, (2) that "controlled" use of asbestos is not possible, and (3) that the health risks of asbestos are not acceptable in either the industrialized or the newly industrializing nations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asbestos / adverse effects*
  • Asbestosis / epidemiology
  • Asbestosis / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Mesothelioma / epidemiology
  • Mesothelioma / etiology*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Risk Factors


  • Asbestos