Free Mesothelioma Information Packet

Chrysotile Asbestos

Chrysotile asbestos accounts for about 90% of all serpentine asbestos found around the world. The most commonly used form of asbestos, the mining and export of chrysotile has prompted a continuous battle between health professionals and countries that mine chrysotile, such as Canada, Russia, and Italy. While these mining countries consider the mineral to be safe and eagerly export it to others, including Third World nations, many organizations maintain that it presents a formidable health hazard.

Evidence shows that chrysotile asbestos has been in use for at least two centuries, serving as cremation clothes, oil lamp wicks, and other textiles. However, commercial mining of this form of asbestos didn't commence until the 1800s.

About Today's Chrysotile

It is true, however, that the use and exportation of chrysotile has changed quite drastically over the years. The Canadian Chrysotile Institute explains that the industry now only markets dense and non-friable materials in which the chrysotile fiber is "encapsulated in a matrix of either cement or resin." These products include chrysotile-cement building materials, friction materials, gaskets and certain plastics.

Before asbestos bans and warnings went into effect beginning in the mid 1970s, old products containing chrysotile asbestos were extremely friable, which means they crumbled easily with a little hand pressure and released large amounts of dust. That form of chrysotile asbestos can still be found in innumerable buildings around the world.

Chrysotile Products

About 90% of the world production of chrysotile is used in the manufacture of chrysotile-cement, in the form of pipes, sheets and shingles. According to the Canadians, some 60 industrialized and developing nations use these asbestos-containing products due in part to their cost-effectiveness and durability.

Other products that include chrysotile asbestos include those classified as "friction" products, such as brake shoes, disk pads, and clutches for automobiles as well as elevators brakes. Chrysotile may also be found in some textiles, plastics, rubber products, caulking, paper, roof sealants, and gaskets. Chrysotile fibers are also used in asphalt, and the roads in some countries - including parts of Canada - are paved with the material. Proponents of chrysotile claim that when mixed when asphalt, the material increases wear resistance without a loss of stability.

Is Chrysotile Safe?

The fact remains that all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic, including chrysotile, and doctors and researchers have said again and again that no level of exposure is safe. Though the amphibole varieties of the mineral (such as amosite and crocidolite) are more likely to cause mesothelioma and other asbestos-diseases when inhaled, exposure to this serpentine variety carries the chance of developing cancer as well.

In fact, studies done in areas of Canada where chrysotile is mined - particularly Quebec - show that individuals who live in the mine areas have a greater incidence of developing an asbestos-related disease. And while the "new" form of encased chrysotile is certainly safer than what was previously used in commercial products, prolonged exposure remains a problem.

For several years now, opponents of the export of chrysotile to Third World countries have endeavored to have the mineral placed on a list of "toxic substances." As a matter of fact, parties to the recent Rotterdam Convention, an international treaty governing trade in toxic substances, once again failed to agree to add chrysotile to a global watch list of dangerous substances, largely due to pressure from countries that mine the mineral.

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Last modified: December 28, 2010.