The health impact of nonoccupational exposure to asbestos: what do we know?

Eur J Cancer Prev. 2009 Nov;18(6):489-503. doi: 10.1097/CEJ.0b013e32832f9bee.


The objective of this study was to examine the epidemiological data that confirm the risks of pleural mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other respiratory damage associated with nonoccupational exposure to asbestos, in circumstances where exposure levels are usually lower than those found in the workplace: domestic and paraoccupational exposure to asbestos-containing material among people living with asbestos workers or near asbestos mines and manufacturing plants, environmental exposure from naturally occurring asbestos in soil, and nonoccupational exposure to asbestos-containing material in buildings. Studies concerning natural asbestos in the environment show that the exposure that begins at birth does not seem to affect the duration of the latency period, but the studies do not show whether early exposure increases susceptibility; they do not suggest that susceptibility differs according to sex. Solid evidence shows an increased risk of mesothelioma among people whose exposure comes from a paraoccupational or domestic source. The risk of mesothelioma associated with exposure as result of living near an industrial asbestos source (mines, mills, asbestos processing plants) is clearly confirmed. No solid epidemiological data currently justify any judgment about the health effects associated with passive exposure in buildings containing asbestos. Most of the studies on nonoccupational sources reported mainly amphibole exposure, but it cannot be ruled out that environmental exposure to chrysotile may also cause cancer. Nonoccupational exposure to asbestos may explain approximately 20% of the mesotheliomas in industrialized countries, but it is does not seem possible to estimate the number of lung cancers caused by these circumstances of exposure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asbestos / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Health Impact Assessment*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Mesothelioma / chemically induced*
  • Pleural Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors


  • Asbestos