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A review based on 36 published epidemiological studies is given of disease patterns that have developed among industrial workers, miners, and millers who had been exposed to dusts of one or more of the commercial asbestos minerals or to dusts from minerals perceived to be asbestos-like. Health data are also reviewed for individuals exposed to asbestos dusts in nonoccupational settings. From the published reports it is clear that there are very significant differences in the health effects of the several asbestos or asbestos-like minerals
Of the commercial asbestos utilized in the United States, about 95% has been chrysotile or “white” asbestos, about 2% amosite or “brown” asbestos, and about 2% crocidolite or “blue” asbestos. The common white asbestos has had the least effect on those occupationally exposed, whereas blue asbestos has had the most effect. Despite the wide dissemination of white asbestos in our environment—in schools, homes, public buildings, brake lining emissions, and so forth—there is little evidence that the very frequent non-occupational exposures to this form of asbestos have caused any harm. On the other hand, nonoccupational exposure to blue asbestos has been conclusively proven to have caused significant mortality. The different health effects of the various forms of asbestos require different regulatory responses and remedial actions.
asbestos, health-related silicates, asbestos-related disease, health hazard, mortality, cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer
Research mineralogist, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Va.