The Risk of Mesothelioma with Chrysotile Exposure

Chrysotile is a serpentine mineral belonging to the asbestiform sub-group. It is a material from which asbestos is produced. It can be found in Canada, South Africa, Russia and in four states in the U.S. Some controversy has been equated with the production and use of chrysotile because asbestos is known to be a carcinogen and is the chief contributor to thoracic mesothelioma. In fact, half of reported situations of mesothelioma have been credited to specialized and industrial use of asbestos.

The effect of high levels of asbestos exposure was recognized in South Africa in 1960. Since then, more studies and research have followed suit. It is estimated that each year, about 4 people out of one million die from mesothelioma as a consequence of asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, the figure is not considered accurate because mesothelioma is not easily diagnosed and is often mistaken for another disease.

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a cancerous tumor that can be found in the thoracic (chest) or abdominal cavities. It affects the mesothelium, a protective lining that covers several organs in the body. Mesothelioma is often credited to exposure to asbestos. It is considered scarce and affects only about 2,000 individuals in the U.S. each year. It is also more often found in men than in women.

The connection between mesothelioma and chrysotile

Chrysotile is one of the forms of asbestos. It has caused some concern because asbestos has been proven to cause cancer in humans and is blamed for many situations of mesothelioma. However, chrysotile can only increase the risk of mesothelioma if it is inhaled and absorbed in very large quantities. This is because chrysotile appears as rolled phyllosilicate, compared to other forms which are bladed amphiboles. Because it is flexible, chrysotile is less likely to cause cancer if absorbed in small quantities. It also does not imbed itself in the body and can be easily deleted.

The same is not true with other asbestos forms such as amosite, tremolite, actinolite, anthophyllite and crocidolite. When these forms of asbestos are inhaled, they embed in the lung tissue and become a source of irritation. Later on, the irritated tissues become cancerous. Chrysotile is also different in chemical composition to other forms of asbestos, which probably explains in part its reduced potency.

However, chrysotile can nevertheless cause cancerous tissues to grow in the lungs with prolonged exposures, but only to very high concentrations of the material. Other forms of asbestos need only a moderate exposure to increase the risk of someone developing mesothelioma. In fact, many asbestos experts agree that forms of asbestos affect predominantly those individuals who experience consistent exposure to asbestos as part of their occupation.

Evidence of the risk of developing mesothelioma due to chrysotile exposure
Although there is a ineffective connection between chrysotile and the risk of mesothelioma, there is a risk of getting exposed to tremolite which is found in certain chrysotile ore. This exposure poses a possible risk for people who work in chrysotile mines.

A McDonald & McDonald mesothelioma study of chrysotile workers conducted in 1995 showed that there were more workers in certain areas of the mine that were affected. examination of lung tissues in post-mortem situations also showed that the workers in those areas had 4 times the amount of tremolite in their lungs compared to workers in other areas. This indicates that it wasn’t chrysotile which caused the workers to develop mesothelioma but tremolite. The study further noted that the mesothelioma situations were the consequence of prolonged high exposures for many decades.

Aside from tremolite, crocidolite also considerably increases the risk of mesothelioma compared to amosite. This has been repeated and proven in many studies.

What does the future keep up for Chrysotile?

All asbestiform materials are heavily regulated in many countries, including the U.S. and Canada. In fact, there has been a meaningful decline in the exposure of humans to chrysotile because regulations mandate that chrysotile fiber must be maintained at a level that provides very low risk in affecting health negatively, especially the risk of mesothelioma. It nevertheless doesn’t change the fact the chrysotile can present serious health risks, although industries are regularly ensuring that human exposure is kept at a minimum. At present, chrysotile is nevertheless being mined, the only form of asbestos to be produced commercially.

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