International Programme on Chemical Safety

Asbestos

All types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs). Exposure to asbestos occurs through inhalation of fibres in air in the working environment, ambient air in the vicinity of point sources such as factories handling asbestos, or indoor air in housing and buildings containing friable (crumbly) asbestos materials.

Currently about 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace. In 2004, asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis from occupational exposures resulted in 107,000 deaths and 1,523,000 Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs). In addition, several thousands of deaths can be attributed to other asbestos-related diseases, as well as to nonoccupational exposures to asbestos.

Elimination of asbestos-related diseases should take place through the following public health actions:

  • recognizing that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos;
  • replacing asbestos with safer substitutes and developing economic and technological mechanisms to stimulate its replacement;
  • taking measures to prevent exposure to asbestos in place and during asbestos removal (abatement), and;
  • improving early diagnosis, treatment, social and medical rehabilitation of asbestos-related diseases and establishing registries of people with past and/or current exposures to asbestos.

Short information documents for decision makers

Tools for action

Norms and guidance values

Fact sheet

WHO Burden of disease estimates

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