British Asbestos Newsletter

Issue 17 : Autumn 1994

Table of Contents:

1. New Asbestos Regulations in the USA, Japan and France

2. Review of British Guidelines on Asbestos Diseases

3. Publication of "Chrysotile Conference" Papers

4. The SWORD Project

5. Literature Reviews

1. New Asbestos Regulations in the USA, Japan and France

Measures have been adopted by national governments on three continents to provide varying degrees of protection from occupational exposure to asbestos. In an August press release, Joseph A. Dear, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) said: "Over the years, asbestos exposures have resulted in the loss of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in lost wages and household services and liability damages to industry." New regulations in Japan and France outlaw the use of amphiboles and introduce controls on the use of chrysotile.

Steps taken in the United States by OSHA to increase protection for workers in construction, renovation, maintenance and shipyards came into force on October 11, 1994. The introduction of new low-cost, low-technology procedures to reduce exposure is expected to benefit nearly 4,000,000 workers throughout the U.S. at an anticipated cost of $361.4 million. The new OSHA regulations do not require asbestos removal but aim to reduce exposure by introducing methods for more effective long-term management of asbestos-containing materials in place. New standards halve the permissible exposure limits from 0.2 fibers per cubic centimeter as an eight-hour timeweighted average to 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter.

It is of great interest to note that OSHA continues to regard the risks from amphiboles and serpentines as equal despite industry pressures to re-classify chrysotile. According to Bob Pigg, President of the Asbestos Information Association: "... low exposures to chrysotile asbestos and its manufacture and use in present-day products do not pose health risks of any consequence." Nevertheless, OSHA's August press release stated: "OSHA is reaffirming its position that chrysotile is as dangerous as other forms of asbestos."

Japan imports more chrysotile and manufactures more asbestos-containing products than other industrialized nations. Japanese asbestos imports peaked in 1988 at 320,000 tons (95% of which was chrysotile); in 1993, 250,000 tons were imported (99% of which was chrysotile). According to the Summer, 1994 issue of the JOSHRC (Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Center) Newsletter, the Japanese Department of Labor has finally expressed concern about the health risks of continued asbestos use and is taking preliminary steps to lessen some of the worst instances of occupational exposure.

Recent government moves succeed the 1992 publication of the "Promotion for Prevention of Exposure to Asbestos Dust due to Operation of Building Materials Containing Asbestos" by the Labor Standards Bureau. In March, 1994 a spokesperson for the Ministry of Labor announced the government's plans to: prohibit the manufacture of products containing amphibole asbestos, reduce control limits and institute labelling on all products containing more than 1% asbestos. Additional steps aimed at protecting workers involved with handling asbestos include detailed record keeping and medical examinations.

Some of the dangers from the renovation and demolition of buildings containing asbestos materials and/or sprayed asbestos products were addressed by the introduction of notification and control procedures. The Japanese government's policy includes on-going consultations with trades unions and private companies. Recommendations have been accepted to ratify ILO Convention No. 162 and to introduce domestic regulations to implement the provisions of this act. Furuya Sugio, the Secretary General of JOSHRC, believes that the government's efforts are minimal and that major asbestos concerns remain. Regarding sprayed asbestos, Sugio said: "it will take a long time to ban all forms of sprayed asbestos."

The French government has consistently resisted attempts to regulate the use of asbestos within France and the EC. In 1992, French representatives were among a group which requested that the World Health Organization re-appraise the section of the 1986 Environmental Health Criteria document dealing with asbestos and other natural mineral fibers. French funding was made available to cover the expenses of a task group's meetings, publications and consultations. It was this lobbying which initiated the controversial re-examination by the International Program on Chemical Safety (IPCS) of the scientific and medical research regarding the carcinogenic properties of chrysotile.

Despite efforts by the French Green Party, environmentalists, scientists and researchers, the French government has continued to permit the use of amosite, crocidolite and chrysotile. On July 26, 1994 a law was passed (no. 94-645) which finally prohibited the use of amphiboles and placed some limitations on the use of chrysotile in France. Article 1 banned the import, sale and distribution of the amphiboles including crocidolite, amosite and tremolite. Limitations were placed on the use of chrysotile in Article 2 which include the following prohibitions: in toys, catalytic filters, paint, varnish, mortar, protective coatings, sealants, mastics, ornaments, cigar and cigarette cases among others. According to a member of the French "Ban Asbestos" movement, the initial controls "reduce only slightly the use of chrysotile" and ignore major areas of French chrysotile consumption.

2. Review of British Guidelines on Asbestos Diseases

At their meeting of September 15, The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) heard representations from Joanne Lenaghan, a former researcher for the Scottish victims' group Clydeside Action on Asbestos. Under discussion were segments of Lenaghan's seventy-seven page report "Victims Twice Over" which detailed the plight of Scottish asbestos victims, female as well as male.

The IIAC was particularly interested in four areas of Lenaghan's evidence: the diagnosis of lung cancer in the absence of asbestosis, the use of CT scans, the definition of bilateral diffuse pleural thickening and the question of mesothelioma in women. The forty-five minute presentation was well-received and the subjects listed above are under consideration. Following the meeting Lenaghan said: "The committee agreed there were legitimate problems that needed to be looked at."

Established in 1946, the IIAC's role is to advise the Secretary of State for Social Security on diseases caused through occupational exposure or work-related accidents. Under its remit, areas for investigation can be chosen by Council members or be referred by the Secretary of State. The most recent IIAC submission to the Secretary of State (March,1984) on the subject of asbestos-related diseases concluded that: "We remain convinced that exposure to asbestos at work may occasionally cause cancer of the lung in the absence of radiological evidence of asbestosis. In our report (November,1982) we were intending pleural plaques to be used as one of two possible indicators of the degree of exposure to asbestos in the absence of overt asbestosis. On reflection, and in the light of the new opinions put forward, we have concluded that the case for using pleural plaques in this way has not been established with sufficient clarity. The Council therefore considers that lung cancer should be prescribed as a separate disease where it is accompanied by asbestosis or by bilateral diffuse pleural thickening but that the reference to pleural plaques should be deleted."

3. Publication of "Chrysotile Conference" Papers

The deliberations of the 1993 "Chrysotile Workshop" were published in the August, 1994 issue of the Annals of Occupational Hygiene (ISSN:0003-4878). Twenty-seven papers documented some of the current thinking on the health risks associated with chrysotile exposure by focusing on three main areas: the human health risks posed by chrysotile at currently permitted levels, contemporary research on chrysotile-tissue interactions and knowledge of the biological effects of chrysotile.

Nearly fifty participants and observers attended the Jersey conference which took place from November 14-17, 1993 under the auspices of the International Congress on Occupational Health in collaboration with the International Program on Chemical Safety. According to an official statement: "financial contributions from various industry organizations towards the costs of holding the workshop" were received. Donations from Natural Resources Canada and the Canada-Quebec Mineral Development Agreement were received to assist with publication costs.

The workshop organizers maintained that nearly thirty years after the New York Academy conference, it was time to assess the health risks of different types of asbestos minerals and that this evaluation had "important world-wide practical, social and economic implications." Most of the published papers were highly technical, detailing the methodology of biological studies, measurement procedures and experimental research. The following statements contained in the published papers are representative of many others: "Asbestosis risk is therefore not likely to develop in workers under current controlled exposure conditions." (Weill) "If there are any effects on mortality due to working in the manufacture of friction materials using chrysotile asbestos, these effects are small..." (Berry) "Such "clean" chrysotile should carry no risk to the user or the general public..." (Elmes)

A minority of delegates expressed divergent views on chrysotile. At session one on November 17, Dr. A. Langer (USA) spoke of the wide range of physical characteristics that chrysotile fibers exhibit: "The fibre may be non-flexible ('stiff') and low in tensile strength ('brittle'), and may lack an ability to curl...The behaviour of the harsh fibres is more amphibole-like and their splintery nature suggests an enhanced inhalation potential...Chrysotile's properties may vary from place to place and among different user industries."

Professor F. Pott (Germany) told delegates about the consumption of chrysotile in East Germany, where 90% of the imported asbestos came from the Kiembay mining area in the Ural Mountains. Between 1960 and 1990, 1082 cases of mesothelioma were diagnosed in the counties of Magdeburg and Halle. Pott stated: "In 843 of these cases an exposure to asbestos was evident. Seventy-two cases were exposed to chrysotile only."

Professor Margaret Becklake's (Canada) paper "Symptoms and Pulmonary Functions as Measures of Morbidity" listed several non-malignant disorders of the lungs and pleura which have been associated with chrysotile exposure including: parenchymal fibrosis, pleural fibrosis, small airway disease, chronic bronchitis and chronic airflow limitation. Nancy Tait, a leading British spokesperson for asbestos victims, stressed the relevance of Becklake's work to British compensation procedures saying that it "suggests that the percentage of disability attributable to asbestos may be greater than is at present accepted in compensation claims."

4. The SWORD Project

In it's sixth year of operation, the surveillance of work related and occupational respiratory disease (SWORD) project aims to provide British medical experts with a current picture of the occurrence of work-related respiratory diseases. Operating in collaboration with the Society of Occupational Medicine and the British Thoracic Society, the SWORD project is financed by a grant from the Health and Safety Executive and is based at the National Heart and Lung Institute in London.

Information about the operations and findings of this project has been obtained from papers which appeared in the scientific press in 1991, 1993 and 1994. The two most recent of these articles appeared in an issue of Occupational Medicine and outlined the objectives, methods and future plans of this group. The cooperation of eight hundred thoracic and occupational physicians in the UK is voluntary; SWORD participants reported 3,500 new cases of occupational respiratory disease annually in 1992 and 1993 claiming that "at least half (the incidence of disease) is attributable to asbestos exposure, despite the fact that lung cancer from this cause may be under-reported."

An analysis of the data received by SWORD for 1993 indicates that "ninety-three per cent of all the long latency diseases were attributed to asbestos," with the highest rates being found in shipyard and dock workers. Details of an interesting case are related which involved the use of crocidolite in dental filling materials in Britain from the early 1950s until the mid-1960s. An autopsy of a dentist who had prepared fillings during this time found a high lung burden of crocidolite. The inquest into his death from mesothelioma recorded a verdict of death from industrial disease.

5. Literature Reviews

Two major books have appeared recently in the United States which add to the state of knowledge on asbestos and function as wonderful sourcebooks for those people working in asbestos-related research.

The textbook entitled: The Current Status of the Asbestos Public Health Problem (ISBN:0-250-40756-5/$95.00) was issued in 1994 by Butterworth Legal Publishers and covers medical, legal, technical and regulatory developments in the USA, Europe and Australia. In the preface, the editors point out that despite many years of medical and scientific research, no consensus has been reached on some of the principle areas in

the asbestos controversy. Diversity of "expert" opinion on the dangers of asbestos exposure, the necessity for asbestos removal and the continuing debates re: chrysotile vs. amphiboles have led to confusion and uncertainty among the general public.

The subjects covered in this 350 page book are wide-ranging and present a balanced picture of contemporary asbestos research and developments. Chapters in this book discuss technology for the measurement of airborne asbestos fibers, compare the carcinogenicity of asbestos and non-asbestos brake linings, detail unique occurrences of asbestos and investigate the problems caused by asbestos-containing roofing material which can result in the inhalation of 800,000 fibers per day under the 0.1 f/cc criterion. Chapter 5 shows how coverage for asbestos-related diseases has evolved within the American insurance industry, while Chapter 6 investigates the methods by which British asbestos victims obtain compensation for occupational exposure.

This book is the ninth volume of the textbook series: The Sourcebook on Asbestos Diseases (ISBN: 0-88063-774-9). The editors, George and Barbara Peters, have accomplished a substantial task in producing this 5,000 page series authored by 145 specialists working in diverse areas throughout the world. The chapters are well-researched and informative pieces covering many of the overlapping fields of asbestos-related research. The bibliographies contain invaluable pointers towards areas for further reading.

The Identification and Control of Environmental and Occupational Diseases: Asbestos and Cancers (ISBN:0-911131-50-7/$135.00) was published in 1994 by Princeton Scientific Publishing Co., Inc. in memory of Dr. Irving Selikoff who died in New Jersey in 1992. The twenty-six chapters run to over five hundred pages and include work by experts from the United States, Italy, France, Norway, Finland, South Africa, etc.

The early chapters focus on the life and work of Dr. Selikoff, the history of occupational medicine and the role of epidemiology in the identification of cancer risks and in legal proceedings in the U.S. The causation of asbestos-related diseases, methods of risk assessment, occupational exposure in petrochemical facilities and South African mines are dealt with in the middle sections of the book while the final chapters look at various topics relating to mesothelioma including a study undertaken among Italian railroad workers.

In view of the on-going debates re: the carcinogenicity of chrysotile, it is interesting to note the contents of two chapters by Dement and Nicholson. Dement concludes that: ""Since inhaled chrysotile fibers are known to split longitudinally and partially dissolve to produce shorter fibers in the lung, the role of short fibers in disease production must not be discounted." Nicholson's language is stronger; at the end of the chapter entitled "The Carcinogenicity of Chrysotile Asbestos," Nicholson states: "In summary, chrysotile is a strong carcinogen for human lung and mesothelial tissues. The available data strongly...indicate that all asbestos workers in the United States and abroad should be protected to the fullest extent feasible."

This book is Volume XXII in the series entitled: Advances in Modern Environmental Toxicology. Volume XXIII (ISBN:0-911131-51-5), also edited by Myron A. Mehlman and Arthur Upton, looks at other environmental and occupational diseases in the United States, the Netherlands, China, Northern Bohemia, Japan, Italy and elsewhere, and is available from the same publishers.


Compiled by Laurie Kazan-Allen for the LKA Group*

*LKA Group:

LKA Services Ltd.

Jerome Consultants