Russia is one of the largest producers and exporters of asbestos in the world. This unique material is used in construction, industry and other areas. At the same time, the attitude to the mineral in society remains ambiguous – some people consider it useful, but some, on the contrary, are afraid. So where is the truth?

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral, which has been extracted and used in the country for more than 100 years – in construction, industry and other industries. More than 50 thousand people work in the sphere of asbestos mining and processing, including the population of several monocities.

At the same time the question of use of a mineral regularly rises in mass-media: despite the fact of universal use, asbestos then praise, then name dangerous. So in what the phenomenon of a mineral consists? And how it is actually necessary to treat “a mountain flax”?

Asbestos can be different

The group of fibrous natural minerals called “asbestos” has been known to mankind since time immemorial. Asbestos has been called “mountain flax”, “salamander hair” and many other poetic names. Our ancestors’ attention was primarily attracted by two features of the mineral – the ability to make fabrics out of it, like wool or linen, and the immunity to fire. In the XVIII century asbestos was used to make special mittens for steelmakers, protective fabrics and even ladies’ hats, and now – more than 3 000 industrial products from construction materials to fireproof equipment. There is no doubt that asbestos is an accessible, durable and effective mineral. And therefore there is a question: why the question on ban of all kinds of asbestos in world scale regularly rises in mass-media and on public platforms?

As it happens, the essence of the problem is in details. The word “asbestos” is the collective commercial term which unites some groups of fibrous minerals. In the Western Europe and the USA it was historically extracted and used mainly amphibole asbestos which distinctive feature is long fibers steady against acidic environments. Amphibol fibers accumulate and are not removed for a long time when they enter the human body. In the 1970s, on a wave of numerous lawsuits linking the emergence of some diseases to the industrial use of amphiboles, the latter were banned from use worldwide. An interesting point is that part of the responsibility for workers’ diseases lay with the industrialists, who “sleeve by sleeve” implemented measures to ensure safe production, saving on protective equipment.

Russia, Canada, Kazakhstan and the countries of Asian-Pacific region traditionally use other type of a mineral – chrysotile asbestos, essentially different from amphibole. The length of chrysotile-asbestos fiber is less than 0.5 micron, which allows the human body to remove it in 15 days on average. During this time, the fiber does not have time to harm the health. This fact is confirmed by long-term studies of various organizations, research institutes and independent scientists.

It is safe when used under controlled conditions

For example, Christie A. Barlow’s work “The length of asbestos fiber and its impact on the risk of disease”, published February 20, 2018 in the journal “Inhalation Toxicology” by the resource Taylor & Francis Online, examines all the studies of toxicology of chrysotile asbestos over the past 20 years and the conclusion made by scientists one – with controlled use of the mineral is safe. Taking into account that strict requirements to the basic rules of extraction and use of chrysotile-asbestos are currently in force in Russia, it is possible to be calm for the implementation of the principles of controlled use.

There is a conflict of interests. The western countries were compelled to forbid harmful amphibole asbestos and, naturally, are not burning desire to let in the market the cheap Russian analogue. Fair competition with a durable and accessible mineral is impossible, therefore influence of lobbying groups goes in a course; the information campaign directed on discredit of all kinds of asbestos is supported and increased. For this reason with enviable regularity there are “asbestos” scandals, this or that country is compelled to apply the European norms of admission of materials. 

However, in the second edition of “Guidelines for assessing the quality of drinking water” of WHO it is said that “… existing at the moment epidemiological researches do not confirm a hypothesis that getting asbestos in drinking water increases cancer risk.

In 2007 by the decision of General Assembly of WHO the principle of the differentiated approach to all kinds of asbestos (simply speaking, to distinguish amphiboles and chrysotile and their influence on the person), but also to take into account all complex of actual scientific researches on this subject was declared. In 10 years from that moment it is possible to ascertain that the opinion of scientists and the industrialists, ready to solve actual problems by means of adequate complexity of a problem of means, is steadily suppressed for the benefit of realization of commercial interests.

Moreover, extensive researches have shown that asbestos is safe at controllable use. The impact of the mineral on the gastrointestinal tract during water consumption, the impact of fibers used in brake pads, and the properties of other products were also studied.

The official position of the Russian Federation in relation to asbestos has been formulated in 1998. According to the document, observance of requirements of the Convention of the International organization of work 1986 N 162 “About a labor safety at asbestos use” with simultaneous realization of a complex of organizational and technical measures on control over use of chrysotile asbestos and products on its basis guarantees safety of its application for people and environment.


Published by Ronald