What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral that makes a great fiber. People use that fiber in lots of building materials, like insulation, paints, electric wiring, wall boards, and floor tiles. It might be all around us.
Should I Be Concerned?
When any of these materials break apart, the asbestos can become airborne and get into our lungs. Asbestos fibers can lodge in the lining of the throat, lungs, or stomach, causing cancerous mutations.
There’s even a type of cancer called “mesothelioma,” for which asbestos is the only scientifically proven cause.
Is Asbestos Common in India?
Despite the dangers, an estimated 2 million tons of asbestos continue to be used around the world each year. Is it common in India?
The data shows it is a major concern in India. In 2012, India was the second-largest asbestos consumer behind China.
India produces little or no asbestos, but has become a major importer with exponential growth in the manufacturing of asbestos cement and pipes. Oddly, India has kept only modest tariffs on asbestos, but raised on artificial materials that are safer.
Asbestos is not banned in India or the US. A 2014 report sourced by the Associated Press reported India as one of the world’s biggest asbestos importers, with a $2 billion dollar industry experiencing double-digit annual growth, at least 100 manufacturing plants, and 300,000 jobs.
Are Indians Genetically Protected Against Asbestos?
Some people in India have claimed that asbestos is safe to use and that Indians are genetically protected from it. Diagnoses prove otherwise. Mumbai alone has documented more than 30 cases of mesothelioma patients treated at the hospital in a single year.
What You Should Know
- Asbestos is the most dangerous once disturbed. When fibers become airborne, we can breathe them in or ingest them.
- Your home and office materials in India may contain asbestos. Use caution with materials likely to contain asbestos, such as wall board, cement, roofing, or insulation. The most dangerous times are during construction and remodeling.
- Inexpensive pollution masks like N95 and N99 masks (see tests) and HEPA purifiers can capture asbestos particles.
For more information on asbestos visit the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center. Learn more on the World Environment Day website.
Thomas is an Associate Professor of Behavior Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the founder of, a social enterprise to help people in China breathe clean air without shelling out thousands of dollars for expensive purifiers.