In this article in The Daily Telegraph it is claimed that large amounts of money are being spent to deal with white asbestos despite this substance posing no risk to human health.

It was in the 1950s that scientists including Professor Richard Doll, who first linked cancer with tobacco-smoking, discovered that "blue" and "brown" asbestos, with its sharp, metallic fibres of iron silicate, is a killer, causing a range of lung diseases and cancer.

But by one of the most unfortunate sleights of hand in scientific history, this demonisation was extended to include "white" or chrysotile asbestos, magnesium silicate, just because it shares the same name.

He claims that white asbestos is:

a product that poses no risk to human health and is chemically identical to talcum powder

Is it true that white asbestos poses no significant risk to human health?

  • You'll need to narrow this down as there are multiple substances that have been termed "white asbestos" over the decades, all of which fall under the blanket ban whether harmful or not, and those that are harmful are not (all) harmful, as suggested by the ban, in that they don't (all) cause asbestosis.
    – jwenting
    Jun 10, 2013 at 10:41

2 Answers 2


To my best understanding -- "white asbestos poses no significant risk to human health" is incorrect.
Specifically on chrysotile commonly referred as white asbestos...
I'll first raise up one relatively recent counter article by George Monbiot -- The superhuman cock-ups of Christopher Booker.

From BMJ article
Lung cancer mortality in North Carolina and South Carolina chrysotile asbestos textile workers
Accepted 9 December 2011; Published Online First 20 January 2012

Conclusions Increased rates of lung cancer were significantly associated with cumulative fibre exposure overall and in both the Carolina asbestos-textile cohorts. Previously reported differences in exposure-response between the cohorts do not appear to be related to inclusion criteria or analytical methods.

Here is a reference from the Australian NHMRC on Asbestos related diseases
These are just extracts, the article has more notes and references.

Asbestos is a group of naturally-occurring silicate minerals that are made up of fine, fibrous crystals. Three of these are crocidolite (blue asbestos), amosite (brown or grey asbestos) and chrysotile (white asbestos).

Asbestos becomes a hazard when microscopic fibre fragments become airborne and are inhaled. Due to their size and shape they can remain airborne for some time, and enter even the smallest air passages in the lungs where they embed in lung tissue. The fibres are highly resistant to removal by the lungs’ natural cleaning processes.

Lung cancer
Exposure to asbestos fibres greatly increases a person’s risk of developing lung cancer, particularly if they are also a smoker.

Mesothelioma is a cancer of the pleura. It typically grows quickly and spreads widely before symptoms appear, making its early diagnosis and effective treatment very difficult. The average survival time after diagnosis is only 6-18 months. A very small exposure to asbestos can be enough to trigger the cancer, however only a small percentage of people exposed to asbestos develop mesothelioma. There may be a lag of 20 to 40 years after asbestos exposure before mesothelioma results.

Who is at risk of asbestos-induced cancers?
Those who are particularly at risk of asbestos-induced cancers, as noted by the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia Inc,are people exposed to the loose fibres of asbestos in mining, manufacturing, building and construction or at work, school or in the home; as well as those exposed through asbestos removal, and the consequences of uncontrolled, unsafe removal.

The UK Health and Safety Executive "confirmed that white asbestos (chrysotile) is a major health hazard" in 2002.

Finally, it would help to note that the Daily Telegraph article, Billions to be spent on nonexistent risk under Christopher Booker's Notebook is dated 13 Jan 2002.

Going a little sideways here, it is interesting to see what Christopher Booker writes these days: The Gleick affair is further proof of the warmists' endless credulity dated 25 Feb 2012.

I am specifically not attaching any extracts to avoid distracting from the asbestos subject here. But, you'll find the wikipedia reference from his name above aptly gives views from his peers and scientific community.

Everyone is entitled to their opinions and judgements; this equally includes readers as well as writers of these articles.

  • 1
    Hi nik, welcome to the site. This is very good start!
    – Sklivvz
    Mar 3, 2012 at 10:33
  • 1
    I would give you a +1 except for the Ad Hominim attack on the claimant that has nothing to do with the article. Answers should be about the claims made not the claimant making them.
    – Chad
    Mar 5, 2012 at 15:35
  • According to the abstract the extra risk associated with lots of exposure isn't that large and is strangely different in north and south Carolina. My recollection says the risks with dark asbestos are much larger.
    – matt_black
    Mar 5, 2012 at 21:56
  • 4
    @Chad, after understanding the background on a particular subject it helps to learn a bit more about the person promoting incorrect data and their peer reviews. At some point you've got to prune bad-science sources from your data feeds -- there is a lot of data out there.
    – nik
    Mar 13, 2012 at 16:20
  • @nik - Maybe but to mean it ruins a great answer.
    – Chad
    Mar 13, 2012 at 17:59

I am a retired analytical chemist and over the years I have analysed hundreds of samples for asbestos and been responsible for assessing results of many thousands of samples from a team of analysts.In a small percentage where samples have shown mainly Chrysotile (white) asbestos a very small amount of Crocidolite (blue) was also present. Could this account for white asbestos apparently causing cancer? The appearance of white asbestos fibres is soft and fluffy and those of brown and blue are very sharp needle like. From the appearance alone white asbestos looks less vicious than the other two. The fact that white asbestos slowly dissolves in the lungs also indicates that it is less dangerous. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that the only thing wrong with white asbestos is its name, and that blue and brown asbestos are the real killers. Ref http://www.asbestoswatchdog.co.uk/news/most-recent?NewsTagID=89dc3291-6f32-4747-8141-987aab6da363 andhttp://www.asbestoswatchdog.co.uk/news/most-recent/11-12-2005/Fatal-Cracks-Appear-in-Asbestos-Scam-as-HSE-Shifts-its-Ground

  • Can you please fix the link, and summarise the important part of the post. Also, blog posts are not authoritative, so it would be better to have a peer-reviewed source for evidence about white asbestos dissolving.
    – Ken Y-N
    Feb 14, 2014 at 0:53

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