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Based on animal and human evidence, expert agencies have evaluated the cancer causing nature of asbestos.

The National Toxicology Program evaluates exposures that may be carcinogenic (cause cancer). Exposures that are thought to be carcinogenic are included in the Reports on Carcinogens, published every 2 years. Each exposure is assigned to 1 of 2 categories: "known to be human carcinogens," and "reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens." The first category includes substances for which human studies (epidemiology studies and/or experimental studies) provide "sufficient evidence" of carcinogenicity in humans. The second category includes substances for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and/or sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.

Using this scheme, the National Toxicology Program classifies asbestos as a "known human carcinogen". (download report)

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC also evaluates exposures that may be carcinogenic). IARC classifies exposures into one of four categories:

  • Group 1 exposures are those "known to be carcinogenic to humans," usually based on "sufficient" human evidence, but sometimes based on "sufficient" evidence in experimental animals and "strong" human evidence.
  • Group 2 exposures are divided into two categories. Group 2A ("probably carcinogenic to humans") has stronger evidence, and Group 2B ("possibly carcinogenic to humans") has weaker evidence.
  • Group 3 exposures are not considered classifiable, because available evidence is limited or inadequate.
  • Group 4 exposures are "probably not carcinogenic to humans," based on evidence suggesting lack of carcinogenicity in humans and in experimental animals.

IARC rated asbestos a known human carcinogen (Group 1). (download report)
The Environmental Protection Agency, through its Integrated Risk Information System, uses a classification scheme very similar to that of IARC. It classifies exposures into 1 of 5 categories:

  • (A) Human carcinogen
  • (B) Probable human carcinogen
  • (C) Possible human carcinogen
  • (D) Not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity
  • (E) Evidence of noncarcinogenicity for humans
The EPA classified asbestos as (A) Human Carcinogen. (view report)


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