Today, the majority of asbestos material that tends to be found within the fabric of buildings and remaining on land sites tends to be of the white variety (chrysotile). Generally considered the least harmful of the different asbestos types, white asbestos still can be dangerous if the dust fibres are disturbed and released into the surrounding air.

However, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, before greater asbestos awareness led to the use of the material to being eventually banned, the UK asbestos industry was unusual in making a distinction between different types of asbestos by preferring to point to the dangers of blue asbestos (crocidolite) as the blue fibres tended to be smaller and easier to penetrate deep into the lung tissue.

Later production methods would grind white asbestos more finely, plus the results of ageing would also release smaller fibres into the air. Thus, the exact relationship, between size of fibre and the process of triggering an asbestos disease, such as mesothelioma, was problematic. All four types of asbestos had been extensively used in industry, from the common chrysotile possessing curly fibres to the three amphiboles (crocidolite, amosite and anthophyllite) possessing straight fibres, and all types leading to asbestosis disease.

Whilst exposure to blue asbestos (crocidolite) caused more mesothelioma than other colour types, the mineral also, equally caused lung cancer, and brown asbestos (amosite) directly led to mesotheliomas of lung and stomach linings. Both brown and white asbestos caused many more lung cancers than they caused mesotheliomas.

The long latency periods of between 15 – 50 years would mean that asbestosis symptoms would not become apparent until many decades after exposure and, as recently highlighted in current long running mesothelioma claim cases, liability for the time period from original exposure and subsequent disease is vigorously contested on grounds of the small print contained in the original employer’s insurance policy.

The tendency to play down the dangers of white asbestos was based upon the idea that fibres longer than 5 microns cause asbestos disease, a clear contradiction of the reasoning, which stated blue asbestos was more deadly because crocidolite fibres were smaller! Whilst it may have seemed long fibres were more damaging when lodged in the lungs, short fibres also caused the fatal disease.

Crucially, most white asbestos is contaminated with other potentially more dangerous types, especially tremolite, which cannot be separated. In other words, although white asbestos does not produce as many mesotheliomas as blue and brown asbestos or within the stomach lining, it was, and still is, equally capable of producing lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.