White asbestos is one of many types of asbestos used as an economical and useful building material and is used extensively in countries such as Russia, China, Brazil and India. Although some groups argue that white asbestos is safer than brown or blue asbestos, the World Health Organization concluded that white asbestos is a known carcinogen and there is no safe minimum exposure limit. Over time, several serious conditions have been linked to white asbestos exposure.
White asbestos has been linked to increased risk of lung cancer, according to the World Health Organization. Plumbers and electricians are among those most at risk due to the nature of their work. When walls containing asbestos materials undergo remodelling or construction by skilled trade workers, the microscopic asbestos fibres become airborne. These fibres are then breathed into the lungs where they become attached to the lung tissue. Over time, this irritation within the walls of the lungs can lead to lung cancer.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer in which the thin tissue membrane that lines the abdominal and chest organs is primarily affected. Exposure to asbestos, including white asbestos, causes this form of cancer more than any other type, despite its rare occurrence. The survival rate for most mesothelioma patients is typically a year or less from the date of diagnosis. Mesothelioma is often not diagnosed until the end stages of the disease, due to the fact that symptoms can take up to 50 years to surface following exposure to white asbestos.
Asbestosis is another serious condition that has been linked to white asbestos exposure. Shortness of breath, coughing and permanent lung damage are the hallmarks of asbestosis. An individual can have mild or severe symptoms, and like mesothelioma, they may take years to become apparent. Once exposure to white asbestos is stopped, the inflammatory process of asbestosis ceases in most cases.
Other pleural disorders that have been associated with white asbestos exposure include pleural plaques, pleural thickening and benign pleural effusions. Pleural plaques occur when the membranes surrounding the lungs become thicker in certain areas. Pleural effusions are abnormal fluid collections around the lungs between the chest wall and the thin tissue layer surrounding the lungs. Although these conditions do not precede lung cancer, the National Cancer Institute notes there is significant evidence that persons with nonmalignant pleural disorders are at greater risk for developing lung cancer at a later date.