The paper presents a survey of the extensive production of asbestos since the end of the 19th century and of the importance of this mineral in the progress of technology. Because of numerous high qualities of this mineral – fire and friction resistance, spinning and insulation ability, etc – the production of asbestos was estimated up to 4.3 million tons 20 years ago. By this time numerous data have been collected supporting the view that asbestos exposure may cause asbestosis and pleural damage and that it also has carcinogenic characteristics, induces lung cancer, and especially mesothelioma. These facts have resulted in the abrupt decrease in the production and use of asbestos worldwide, although the countries where asbestos is widely produced have tried to slow down the process.
The European Union has been especially active in prohibiting the use of asbestos, while its application has already been stopped in most EU countries. The structure and results of the Finnish Asbestos Programme (1987-1992) are described as a practical example. In Estonia, asbestos related problems are studied at the Estonian Institute of Experimental and Clinical Medicine and some researches have been performed in collaboration with the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. Research in this field needs to be continued. Ten years ago 23,000 tons of asbestos were used in Estonia and nearly 12, 000 people were exposed to this mineral. At present legal acts are valid in Estonia, which regulate the health and safety requirements for work with asbestos and prohibit the use and sale of asbestos containing products.