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The Health Effects of Chrysotile Asbestos
  1. A Seaton

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    R P Nolan, A M Langer, M Ross, F J Wicks, R F Martin (pp 304, $38) 2001. Ottaza, Ontario: The Canadian Mineralogist. ISBN 0 921 294 41 7

    The famous mortality study led by Corbett McDonald has followed 11 000 Canadian chrysotile miners and millers until 80% were dead; only 33 mesotheliomas were reported and excess lung cancers occurred only at very high exposure levels. Yet that same chrysotile used in textile manufacture in South Carolina was associated with a 50 times greater lung cancer mortality.

    This volume, published in 2001 by The Canadian Mineralogist, reports the papers presented and the ensuing discussion and commentary at a symposium in 1997 called by the Canadian Government to discuss the health issues surrounding the continued production and use of chrysotile asbestos. Can the mineral be used safely? To most uninformed observers, the answer must be a clear no. The true answer is of course not so clear cut. Much of the evidence suggests that chrysotile itself is much less hazardous than the amphiboles and that the serious risks associated with chrysotile are a consequence of its contamination by tremolite, an amphibole that is found in geological intrusions into the chrysotile ore body. These are the issues discussed by the distinguished geologists, mineralogists, epidemiologists, risk analysts, and pathologists who contributed to the symposium. Among them are the last published contributions of two who made great contributions over many decades to investigating the hazards of asbestos and to protecting workers, the late Chris Wagner and Bob Murray.

    The resolution of this conundrum may seem unimportant to those who live in countries where past exposures have been to mixtures of amphiboles and chrysotile and where use of asbestos has effectively ceased. However, industry continues to need durable fibres and the poor world sees substantial advantages in using cheap asbestos cement for water pipes and roofing material. And the issue is of course important to the Canadian and Russian chrysotile industries and their employees. Anyone who has been involved in the asbestos debate, who gives advice to industry or lawyers on asbestos issues, or who is interested in the complexities of the interface between science and regulation will find much of fascination in this volume.

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