One of the consistent themes in any story about China's miraculous economic development is the concern that that achievement has come about at the expense of long-term environmental or public health consequences. One of the less-reported issues behind China's economic development is the public health risks of what is now the world's largest consumer of asbestos - annual consumption of 600,000 tonnes. Experts are now calling it a public health time bomb; given the generally held belief that inhalation of the fibres can cause lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses. Despite being banned or restricted in 52 countries, the use of the material is more prevalent than ever on the mainland. The central government, however, asserts that chrysotile, the technical name for asbestos, is safe and claims about the health threats are exaggerated. In Hong Kong, the importation and sale of the most dangerous types of asbestos were banned in 1996 and no building constructed after 1986 should contain any. But even if medical analysis of health effects of asbestos were inconclusive, this is still an incredibly high-risk game with lives at stake. The country is estimated to have 120,000 workers in 31 asbestos mines. Another 1.25 million are involved in the production of common forms of asbestos, and a further 800,000 are involved in breaking up ships built with large amounts of asbestos. In total, 80 million are believed to be potentially exposed to asbestos in their homes. If the government is wrong, a conservative estimate says 10,000 to 15,000 will die every year from asbestos-related ailments by 2035, while millions more are affected by respiratory problems. Given the enormity of the risks, the least the government could do is to educate the people on the issue even if it does not agree with those scientific conclusions. It has ample media resources to inform workers of the need for the right masks and safe packaging of asbestos materials. Saving on these costs now could result in a much heavier public health price in the future.