Authors: Phillips J.I, Swanepoel A.J, Rees D.

Source: Occupational Health Southern Africa 22(4): 20-23


Discussions concerning asbestos may be emotive. Asbestos has the potential to adversely affect health, and the topic engenders fierce debate at public and academic forums. South Africa was a large producer and consumer of asbestos and, although its use is banned, the topic remains pertinent as our country has been left with a legacy of asbestos and asbestos products in the environment. This article discusses two currently controversial aspects of asbestos : its presence in asbestos cement roofs; and the relationship between asbestos fibre size and toxicity. In the 1970s, the South African economy was based on mining and, in addition to being the world’s leading gold producer; South Africa was the world’s third largest producer of asbestos. Three types of asbestos were mined commercially in large quantities, namely: chrysotile (white), crocidolite (riebeckite, blue) and, unique to South Africa, amosite (grunerite, brown). The fibrous mineral was milled locally and while most of it was exported, it was used locally to manufacture products including asbestos cement products such as roof sheets.