“The Need to Control Asbestos Fibers in Potable Water Supply Systems”

1981:114: Millette

Sci. Tot. Envir. 18:91-102


Occupational studies have shown that asbestos is a human carcinogen. Because many inhaled asbestos fibers deposited in the lung are cleared and swallowed, workers are also exposed through ingestion. Of the millions of current and former workers who have been heavily exposed to asbestos, one in ten will die from cancer of the gastrointestinal tract. A number on the order of 1 in 1,000 ingested asbestos fibers penetrate the digestive tract and ingested fibers have been recovered in such tissues as kidney, intestine, liver, and urine. One animal study showed tumor production related to ingestion of asbestos-containing material but, in general, the results of seven animal feeding studies have been inconclusive. A statistically significant relationship between male lung and stomach cancer and female peritoneal, gall bladder, and esophageal cancer and asbestos counts in drinking water was determined in one epidemiology study. Increased rates for male stomach and lung, and female pancreatic cancer related to asbestos in drinking water were reported in another study but possible occupational exposure made it difficult to draw conclusions. Data on excess gastrointestinal cancer among occupational groups has been used to estimate that drinking water containing 300,000 asbestos fibers per liter over a lifetime will result in one additional cancer among 100,000 people.

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