25 May 2008
HSE does not exaggerate the risks of white asbestos cement fibres as claimed by Christopher Booker (Farmers face £6 bn bill for asbestos clean up' 25 May). The article was substantially misleading.
The World Health Organisation classifies white asbestos as a class 1 carcinogen, the most hazardous to human health. This is reflected in EU asbestos directives which the UK must implement. Our advice to interested UK organisations is that if the international view is to be challenged it would need to be done at EU level rather than at a meeting with HSE.
The HSE paper quoted in the article in fact makes no specific statement about the risks of asbestos cement. It provides a summary of risk estimates for mesothelioma and lung cancer in relation to blue, brown and white asbestos across a range of exposures. Blue and brown asbestos are substantially more hazardous than white, but all three types can cause mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Finally, HSE in no way promotes the interests of the asbestos removal industry and it is absurd to suggest otherwise. We are an independent regulator that ensures contractors carry out work safely, and in compliance with the law.
Health and Safety Executive