All the hysteria about asbestos is just wasted time, and the now large industry of "asbestos-removal" is really wasted money. The ban on it has costed america hundreds of billions of dollars.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance, and as alex.tan mentioned above, it has a variety of other forms. It has six naturally occurring forms and three of them have been used commercially. They are more commonly known as white, brown, and blue asbestos.

95% of all asbestos ever used in the United States is white, chrysolite and most of it has been imported from Canada. The white form is made up of rolled up sheets, that make "scroll-like" fibers. This is very different from the blue and brown varieties which are made of sharp needle fibers. The blue and brown types have never been used widely in the United States excet for in world war II when blue asbestos was imported from South Africa for naval shipbuilding. This is just about the only exception. Brown asbestos has been used very rarely in old factory buildings. And it is very important to note that the only form of asbestos ever used in schools or public buildings is white asbestos. Both the blue and brown form can cause cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. White asbestos does not (which is 95% of that used in the US).

Blue asbestos is deadly and white is quite harmless and it all has to do with their physical properties. White asbestos has a very high surface area and low density. White asbestos is ejected very easily if inhaled and if it is captured in the lungs for a long period of time, it will tend to dissolve. Blue asbestos, however, with it's needle shape tends to penetrate the lungs and become lodged very easily. They will not dissolve before damage is done.

The saying "One fiber can kill" was used widely in the campaign against asbestos. The theory was that if one million fibers can kill a man then if one fiber is inhaled then there is one chance in a million that it will kill. This is utterly ignorant.

Life-long exposure to white asbestos in concentrations up to 2 white fibers per cubic centimeter has caused no ill-effects to asbestos mining and processing personnel in Ontario. At this concentration, one would breathe in several thousand fibers per breath and over 10 billion fibers per year. Billions of fibers per year killed no one in Canada. Why would one lone fiber do the job? Still, the EPA claims a concentration of 0.001 fibers of any type of asbestos per cubic centimeter to be a serious health risk in schools and public buildings (all of which conain only white asbestos and usually have a concentration much lower than that inside buildings.

White asbestos is commonly found in the air and water in North America. California, Quebec, and Ontario all have a very high quantity of asbestos containing serpentine rock. It has been known since world war II that the blue and brown varieties of asbestos are dangerous. We knew that from premature deaths of shipyard workers and factory workers in New Jersey, but practically all of the deaths occurred in smokers. Non-smokers appeared to be much less affected. The third time a notable effect of blue asbestos was noticed was int he 1950s when the Lorillard Tobacco Company introduced Kent cigarettes with new Micronite filters. The filters were made out of blue asbestos. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, 28 of the 33 workers employed to make the filters died asbestos-related deaths. This is a death rate 325% higher than normal. The legitimate white asbestos companies had to pay for the small amount of people who used the fatal blue and brown types of asbestos.

The Canadian "Royal Commission on Matters of Health and Safety Arising from the Use of Asbestos in Ontario" reported in 1984:
"Even a building whose air hase a white asbestos fiber level up to ten times greater tha that found in the typical outdoor air would create a risk of fatality less than one fiftieth of the risk of a fatal automobile accident while driving to and from the building."
It also concluded that non-occupational exposure to white asbestos has a risk 10,000 times less than that of cigarette smoking and that "asbestos in building air will almost never pose a health hazard to the building occupants."

The EPA established it's own panel to create a report that they could use to ban asbestos. They did. At the time, they really needed some reputable scientific expertise to back them up and make them sound impartial. The organization was run by William Reilly at the time, a business man with no real scientific knowledge. The EPA had 16,000 employees in 1989 but it didn't have one single scientist.

The public was to pay the several billion dollar burden placed by the infamous ban on asbestos, all because of an organization employing no legitamate scientists. Sheesh.

Sources: American Lung Association ; Global Warming in a Politically Correct Climate, M. Mihkel Mathiesen ; Occupational Safety and Health Administration ; Environmental Protection Agency