All types of asbestos fibers are known to cause serious health hazards in humans. While it is agreed that amosite and crocidolite are the most hazardous asbestos fiber types, chrysotile asbestos has produced tumors in animals and is a recognized cause of asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma in humans.
Mesotheliomas have been observed in people who were occupationally exposed to chrysotile, family members of the occupationally exposed, and residents who lived close to asbestos factories and mines. According to the NCI, “A history of asbestos exposure at work is reported in about 70 percent to 80 percent of all cases. However, mesothelioma has been reported in some individuals without any known exposure to asbestos.” The most common diseases associated with chronic exposure to asbestos include: asbestosis and pleural abnormalities (mesothelioma, lung cancer). Asbestosis has been reported primarily in asbestos workers, and appears to require long-term exposure, high concentration for the development of the clinical disease. There is also a long latency period (incubation period of an infectious disease, before symptoms appear) of about 12 to 20 years.
Studies have shown an increased risk of lung cancer among smokers who are exposed to asbestos compared to nonsmokers.
Asbestos exposure becomes a health concern when high concentrations of asbestos fibers are inhaled over a long time period. People who become ill from inhaling asbestos are often those who are exposed on a day-to-day basis in a job where they worked directly with the material. As a person’s exposure to fibers increases, because of being exposed to higher concentrations of fibers and/or by being exposed for a longer time, then that person’s risk of disease also increases. Disease is very unlikely to result from a single, high-level exposure, or from a short period of exposure to lower levels.