Asbestos is a generic name for a particular type of fibrous rock incorporated into various insulation products. There are two main fiber types of asbestos: “serpentines,” of which chrysotile is the only form commercially used, and “amphiboles,” a group that includes the commercial fiber types amosite and crocidolite, and tremolite. Over the last eighty years, the hazards of inhaling asbestos fibers have been documented in the medical and scientific literature. Workers who inhale asbestos fibers of any type have been shown to develop mesothelioma, a fatal cancer of the lining of the lung or abdomen. The overwhelming cause of mesothelioma in humans is exposure to asbestos. Nearly every government agency that has examined the issue has concluded that all of the asbestos fiber types, including chrysotile, are capable of causing mesothelioma in railroad workers and in their family members. These agencies include International Agency for Research on Cancer, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Occupatioanal Safety and Health Administration

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer, but there have been cases from all over the world in which chrysotile is the exclusive exposure. The highest rate of mesothelioma deaths per 100 deaths in any population ever reported is that which occurred to railroad workers exposed to chrysotile. There were 14 mesothelioma deaths in 156 deaths among a total of 181 workers, accounting for 34% of all cancer deaths. In comparison, the American Cancer Society study of 31,665 deaths in the general population, there were 3 mesothelioma deaths. While no relative risk calculation was made, it is obvious that it would exceed twice that of the general population. Although there may have been a minor amount of amphibole asbestos used by some of these workers, the study concluded that, “[t]he findings of this study demonstrate a very high relative risk for those exposed to chrysotile asbestos in the development of mesothelioma . . .”

The majority of the scientific community has concluded that there is no ”safe” level of exposure to asbestos of any type. It is clear that all types of asbestos, including chrysotile are capable of causing mesothelioma. An occupational history of brief or low-level exposure can be sufficient for mesothelioma to be considered occupationally related. Although Chrysotile asbestos may be less potent than certain types, it is still very hazardous to railroad workers who are exposed to it.

Given the continued use of chrysotile asbestos in many countries worldwide, it is anticipated that the mesothelioma epidemic will continue. If you would like to consult with a railroad mesothelioma lawyer, please contact us today.


Kanarek M.S., Mesothelioma from Chrysotile Asbestos: Update, (2011) Annals of Epidemiology, 21 (9), pp. 688-697.

Mancuso, Relative Risk of Mesothelioma Among Railroad Machinists Exposed to Chrysotile, Am J Ind Med 13:639-657 (1988); See also Maltoni & Mobiglia, Mesotheliomas due to Asbestos Used in Railroads in Italy, Ann NY Acad Sci 643:347-415 (1991)(reporting on 81 mesotheliomas among Italian railroad workers exposed to chrysotile asbestos and 2 of their family members).