Asbestos is still an ingredient in nearly 3500 different products, including floor tile, linoleum and related adhesives. Part of the reason is due to legislation known as the “Grace Rule.” This is federal legislation written not by Congress, but by lobbyists for the W.R. Grace Corporation, essentially stating that if a product contains less than 1% asbestos, it is legally “asbestos free” – allowing asbestos corporations to continue making profits with a product clearly shown to be detrimental to human health.
Is There a Safe Type or Amount of Asbestos?
There is a fair amount of controversy over what types and amounts of asbestos constitute a “health hazard.” There is certainly evidence that the concentration of asbestos fibers has a great deal of bearing on how quickly respiratory disease develops. For example, mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that attacks the pleural, pericardial and peritoneal linings, usually has a latency period of twenty to fifty years. However, at least one of the first responders to the attacks on the World Trade Center (where nearly 5000 tons of asbestos insulation was used) developed malignant mesotheliomaand died from it in less than 5 years.
There was a study done in 1987 indicating that cement plant worker exposed to one type of asbestos – serpentine, or chrysotile – ran a slightly lower risk of developing asbestos cancer than those exposed to the other type, known as amphibole.
The difference between serpentine (chrysotile) and amphibole (tremolite, amosite, crocidolite) fibers lies in the fact that the former are softer and curled like a spring, whereas the latter are rigid and needle-shaped.
One study, done in 2003 by a Swiss toxicologist, claimed that serpentine/chrysotile asbestos fibers are actually harmless. This study was performed using laboratory rats, and appeared to show that these fibers somehow break down inside the body and/or are expelled after a number of days. These reports can be found on websites of the Chrysotile Institute and the National Insulation Manufacturer’s Association.
On the other hand, a study actually performed at the Mount Sinai Hospital School of Medicine demonstrated that chrysotile fibers are indeed mutagenic, meaning that they can and do cause healthy tissues to become malignant.
The vast majority of medical authorities agree with the latter. Dr. Philip Landrigan and several colleagues from Mount Sinai Hospital and Dr. Joseph LaDou of the UC San Francisco Medical School state:
“Clinical and epidemiologic studies have established incontrovertibly that chrysotile causes cancer of the lung, malignant mesothelioma of the pleura and peritoneum, cancer of the larynx and certain gastro-intestinal cancers.”
These physicians note that chrysotile is “…2 to 4 times less potent than crocidolite [amphibole] asbestos in its ability to cause malignantmesothelioma,” but is nonetheless is equally deadly when it comes to causing lung cancer.
In short, the “safe asbestos” argument is a proverbial “Straw Man,” designed to lull consumers into complacency. The facts overwhelmingly prove that there is no “safe level” of asbestos.
Linoleum and floor tile products are usually non-friable, meaning that they do not produce dust. However, as such products age, they are liable to become friable – prone to crumbling, which in turn can release asbestos fibers into the air. Linoleum and floor tile installers should be aware of this when replacing aged and worn flooring.
‘Tile / Linoleum Installers – Mesothelioma and Asbestos ExposureRisks’ Resources:
- Montana State DEQ. “FAQs.”
- Environmental Working Group. “The Failed EPA Asbestos Ban”
- Pope, Charles. “Murray’s Bill Advances.”
- Montana DEQ, op. cit.
- Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception, p. 71.
- MesotheliomaSOS.com. “World Trade Center Paramedic Dies of Mesothelioma” (2007).
- Mesothelioma Help Center. “Asbestos-Cement Production.”
- Bernstein, David, et. al. “Comparison of Calidria chrysotile asbestos to Pure Tremolite” (2005).
- Lezon-Geyda, K. et. al. “Chrysotile Asbestos Fibers Mediate Homologous Recombination” (1996).
- Quoted in Bowker, pp. 124-125.