Asbestos exposure--quantitative assessment of risk

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1986 Jan;133(1):5-13. doi: 10.1164/arrd.1986.133.1.5.


Methods for deriving quantitative estimates of asbestos-associated health risks are reviewed and their numerous assumptions and uncertainties described. These methods involve extrapolation of risks observed at past relatively high asbestos concentration levels down to usually much lower concentration levels of interest today--in some cases, orders of magnitude lower. These models are used to calculate estimates of the potential risk to workers manufacturing asbestos products and to students enrolled in schools containing asbestos products. The potential risk to workers exposed for 40 yr to 0.5 fibers per milliliter (f/ml) of mixed asbestos fiber type (a permissible workplace exposure limit under consideration by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ) are estimated as 82 lifetime excess cancers per 10,000 exposed. The risk to students exposed to an average asbestos concentration of 0.001 f/ml of mixed asbestos fiber types for an average enrollment period of 6 school years is estimated as 5 lifetime excess cancers per one million exposed. If the school exposure is to chrysotile asbestos only, then the estimated risk is 1.5 lifetime excess cancers per million. Risks from other causes are presented for comparison; e.g., annual rates (per million) of 10 deaths from high school football, 14 from bicycling (10-14 yr of age), 5 to 20 for whooping cough vaccination. Decisions concerning asbestos products require participation of all parties involved and should only be made after a scientifically defensible estimate of the associated risk has been obtained. In many cases to date, such decisions have been made without adequate consideration of the level of risk or the cost-effectiveness of attempts to lower the potential risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asbestos*
  • Asbestosis / complications*
  • Asbestosis / epidemiology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Mesothelioma / epidemiology
  • Mesothelioma / etiology*
  • Risk
  • Schools


  • Asbestos