Occupational (OSHA) and Environmental Hazards/montmorillonite exposure


A few months ago I bought some bentonite clay (montmorollonite) to use as a paint thickener. I only used it once or twice but I accidentally inhaled some of the dust from it and it was only later that I discovered it can have similar effects to asbestos if inhaled! I cleaned it up and have not used it since,  I disposed of the rest and never used a great deal of it anyway. But of course I am now very concerned that I might be at risk for mesothelioma in the future. I cannot find any information about how much or how long exposure is needed for there to be permanent lung damage. My doctor knows nothing about this subject. Help?!

Hi Poppy
I understand your concern there has been lots of deaths due to asbestos exposure in the past due to workers inhaling the asbestos fibres over a long period of time.  Many, who have a short term exposure are also worried.  I am not sure if you are in the US or the UK but I will give you a general answer.

Short term exposures are covered by the UK Control of Asbestos Regulations.  
The Health and Safety Executive (our work police if you like) have answered your question so I will just cut and paste it here if that is OK.  This advice is evidence based and accepted across the UK.

"People who believe they may have been exposed to asbestos are understandably anxious and concerned about the possible effects on their health. Many cases of inadvertent, short-term exposure to asbestos will most likely have led to minimal exposure to fibres, with little likelihood of any long-term ill health effects.

Although the type of asbestos involved and duration of exposure may be known, there may be little reliable information about the level of exposure. These are all important factors in determining the level of risk - the more fibres that are released by an asbestos-containing material, and the longer the work activity lasts, the greater the cumulative exposure to asbestos fibres and, therefore, an increased risk of ill health effects.

Some work activities are more likely to create a significant concentration of asbestos fibres in the air, and therefore, add to the risk if suitable precautions are not in place; for example:

use of power tools (to drill, cut etc)
work that leads to physical disturbance (knocking, breaking, smashing) of an ACM (asbestos containing material)
manually cutting or drilling
work involving aggressive physical disturbance of asbestos cement eg breaking or smashing
Some asbestos-containing materials release fibres more easily than others.
If you are concerned about possible exposure to asbestos from work activities, you are advised to consult your GP and ask for a note to be made in your personal record about possible exposure, including date(s), duration, type of asbestos and likely exposure levels (if known). In some circumstances, your GP may refer you to a specialist in respiratory medicine. HSE does not advocate routine X-rays for people who have had an inadvertent exposure to asbestos. Asbestos-related damage to the lungs takes years to develop and become visible on chest X-rays. X-ray examinations cannot indicate whether or not asbestos fibres have been inhaled."

All info for HSE on Asbestos available here: http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/faq.htm

In the US there is www.asbestos.com which should be able to answer all your questions at http://www.asbestos.com/

I hope that is helpful to you.


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Jane Coombs


I am based in the UK and advise industry, OH practitioners and businesses for the past 25 years on Occupational Health and Health and Safety matters.


My particular area of expertise is around identifying and controlling hazards and risks in different workplaces to include call centres, hospitals, manufacturing, construction, food production plus working closely with HR to ensure action taken for long term absence or disability issues are dealt with in a fair manner taking into account current UK legislation.

Chartered Member of Institute of Occupational Safety and Health On the Safety Consultants Register Royal College of Nursing Professional registration with Nursing Midwifery Council

How to Start a Healthy Business: An Insiders Guide to Occupational Health Success eBook published on Amazon Occupational Health Magazine - Alcohol http://www.working-well-solutions.com blog Review of Construction Industry Standards Part 2 - for UK Construction Industry available on line at www.cbhscheme.com or hard copy for members of CBH 35 guidance documents for knowledge base England's free advice line for SME's http://www.health4work.nhs.uk/

Masters in Occupational Health, Safety and Environmental Management Diploma in Management Occupational Health Nursing Certificate (registered with the Nursing Midwifery Council on the 3rd Part of the Register in Public Health) Diploma in Health and Safety

Awards and Honors
Runner up in class for Occupational Health magazine 'best occupational health service' 2009

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