A report produced by Medical Research Council staff based at the University of Leicester is set to lead to a European ban on white asbestos.

White asbestos (chrysotile) can cause lung cancer and asbestosis at high exposure levels.

The move will have an impact on certain industries where the material is still being used.

The report, prepared by staff at the MRC's Institute for Environment and Health and the MRC Toxicology Unit at the University, concluded that, on available evidence, the use of chrysotile should cease in favour of the available substitutes. A European committee that received the report came to similar conclusions, which should result in a ban on its use for these purposes within the EU. Such a ban would be supported by the UK Health and Safety Commission, for whom the report was originally produced.

Researcher Dr Len Levy said: "Blue and brown asbestos are already banned from use in the UK and elsewhere, but white asbestos is still used, for example in manufacturing asbestos cement and friction linings. There has been pressure for some time to replace this material with substitute fibres, or to exclude fibres altogether from these products. The Health and Safety Executive asked the Institute to undertake an independent review of the alternative fibre types and report on their safety."

In assessing the literature, Dr Levy, head of the Toxicology and Risk Assessment Group at the Institute and Dr Graham Patrick, head of the Pulmonary Toxicology Programme at the Toxicology Unit, took account of both toxicological and health factors.

The report compared this material with its potential substitutes, concentrating especially on the key physical and chemical properties that are likely to account for toxic properties.

As the authors explain, the dimension of the fibres is particularly relevant, as those above a certain size are not respirable and so are unlikely to penetrate deep into the lung. It is also important that substitute fibres should not readily split longitudinally, as chrysotile does, as this can lead to many more respirable fibres being produced.

Dr Paul Harrison, Acting Director, who led the work, said: "This was a tough assignment but our bottom line was clear and we are very pleased to have had such an impact on asbestos policy in the UK and Europe."


For more information, please contact Dr Paul Harrison or Dr Len Levy on 0116 223 1600.

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Information supplied by: Pat Bone
Last updated: 02 July 1999 14:39
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