Chrysotile is a form of asbestos that is known to cause cancer, yet it is still used in products today. Asbestos first became popular in manufacturing in the 1800s and peaked in the mid-1900s as its many uses became known.

chrysotile in its natural state

Though its impact on the community became apparent as soon as 1964 with the first reported case of mesothelioma linked to its exposure, its use didn’t decrease until decades later. Even so, products today are made with different forms of the compound and are still a risk to others.

Understanding Chrysotile

Chrysotile is a type of asbestos that has, for the most part, been popular in products today. It is a thin sheet silicate that is composed of magnesium and silica. When used, the particles from this material become airborne and a risk to people breathing contaminated air. This exposure can cause cancer and is a well-recognized carcinogen by many countries.

In addition to cancer, mesothelioma has also been linked to occupational exposure to the material. Because of such risks, there has been a push in the recent decades to eliminate its use once and for all, though the material is still a controversial topic among many.

Uses Today

Chrysotile is one form of asbestos that, though it has been clearly linked to cancer, it has also gained support for its use in the manufacturing of products. It can mostly be found in building applications such as roofing shingles, and also water supply lines, and in brake linings and pads for vehicles. Even more astonishing is that about 90% of its use goes toward cement building materials.

While many countries, including all members of the European Union, have banned all forms of asbestos, it is still used frequently in developing countries. The Asia-Pacific region has increased its usage, proving that the known dangers of its use haven’t necessarily decreased its presence.

The Chrysotile Debate

There exists a battle between the users of chrysotile, and the health community who advise against it.

Though all forms of asbestos are known to cause cancer, many organizations exist to protect their presence in the market, or more specifically, the chrysotile industry. In fact, one such organization helped fund a study that concluded that with low exposure, there was very little risk.

The author of the study, Dr. D.M. Bernstein, claimed that the structure of the material broke down inside the body to the point that it would be less damaging than other forms of asbestos.

The article really rallied support among the chrysotile industry, as it cited other studies that demonstrated the body’s ability to rid itself of the materials further illustrating that low exposure to the material posed little to no risk to people.

Even with this information the International Labor Organization, National Cancer Institute, World Health Organization and World Trade Organization all responded that chrysotile is still a carcinogen.

Chrysotile Alternatives

The debate seems to continue as long as there is an industry, and therefore funding, to support the material’s use. Even so, it is alarming that it is such a battle when there are so many incredible alternatives.

Instead of relying on the material of chrysotile, companies can instead use accessible and sophisticated alternatives such as ceramic foam, plastic flour and polyurethane foam. Each of these products can be used in similar ways to chrysotile, yet they are still falling behind because, ultimately, it would cut down on profits.

There have been many gains in the health community to help expose asbestos as a serious carcinogen.

At the same time, there has been a steady asbestos industry, with a high demand for chrysotile in particular. Though all forms of asbestos can cause cancer—not just this type—the industry continues to profit.

With proper caution, and limited to no exposure, it is possible to be unaffected by its use. With its ubiquitous use in building materials though, the safety concerns become ever more relevant and pressing. If you feel you’ve been exposed, you should consult with your doctor immediately.