The most widely-used type of asbestos and that which is most abundant throughout the world, chrysotile asbestos is still mined in various locales, including Quebec (Canada), Russia, and Italy. Countries that mine chrysotile maintain that it is a safe form of asbestos and often export it to other countries – especially Third World countries – where it is still widely used in construction and in other industries.
Chrysotile is a form of serpentine asbestos, which means it has curly fibers that are not as easy to inhale as the needlelike fibers from the amphibole forms of asbestos. About 95 percent of all the asbestos that was used in buildings throughout the U.S. and for a variety of consumer products was of the chrysotile variety, basically because it was more flexible than the other types and could be spun and woven into fabric-type products including insulation, protective clothing, rope, and a variety of other products. It was also used in brake linings, floor and ceiling tiles, joint compound, and many items used inside the home, including toasters and hair dryers.
These days, the Canadian Chrysotile Institute indicates that about 90 percent of all chrysotile mined today is used in the manufacture of cement products including sheets, pipes, and shingles, and they note that about 60 industrialized and developing nations still use these products, primarily because of their durability and low cost. However, those opposed to the export of chrysotile asbestos have been attempting to have the mineral placed on a global watch list of toxic substances, which would likely end the exporting and greatly affect the chrysotile mining industry.
While the miners of chrysotile maintain that this is a safe form of asbestos, researchers and medical professionals are steadfast in their belief that all asbestos is toxic and that there is no safe level of exposure. Though miners of chrysotile have a far less chance of developing mesothelioma cancer than those who mine the more toxic forms of asbestos – especially crocidolite – statistics still show that the rate of asbestos cancer in places like Quebec are far higher than, for example, rates in other Canadian provinces.
R. Lemen and E. Bingham, Toxicology and Industrial Health - A Case Study in Avoiding a Deadly Legacy in Developing Countries (Vol. 10, No. 1/2, Princeton Scientific Publishing Co., Inc. 1994);
H. Seidman, et al., Short-term Asbestos Work Exposure and Long-term Observation (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 330:61-89, 1979).