Paakkila asbestos mine

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Paakkila asbestos mine case, Finland.

Tuomisto, J.T., Alm, S., Juuti, S., Kettunen, A., Kurttio, P., Pekkanen, J., Venäläinen, R., Viluksela, M.

National Public Health Instutute, Division of Environmental Health, P.O.Box 95, 70701 Kuopio, Finland.


Environmental health problems are often multidiciplinary, have several affected and interested parties and may have severe financial consequences. Therefore, it is difficult to tackle these problems with a narrow health science approach. We are developing a method that aims at gathering relevant knowledge of physical or medical issues on one hand and of values, perceived risks and problems expressed by the affected parties on the other hand. All information is organized in a Pyrkilo network, which consists of items (relevant factors and their effects, values, and policy options). The items are connected by logical and explicitly expressed relations. The Pyrkilo method was tested by gathering and processing information and viewpoints relating to a complicated environmental health problem caused by an old asbestos mine in Paakkila, Northern Savo.


Paakkila is a small village in the community of Tuusniemi in Eastern Finland. It was heavily dependent on an asbestos mine that was founded in 1917. Most people in Paakkila were connected to the mine, many of them as empoyees. Asbestosis and lung cancer were common diseases in Paakkila, and the life expectance was several years lower in Paakkila than in Finland in average. Despite this, there were not strong protests against the mine owners.

The asbestos mine was closed due to economic reasons in 1975. A few years later, a machine workshop moved to the empty mine buildings. It is now a major employer in Paakkila. The open mine was left almost as it was when the mining was stopped, and e.g. the piles of asbestos-containing waste stone were not covered. The mine itself filled with water and is now used by divers.

New problems occurred when the nearby lake shore was planned as building sites for summer cottages in the late 1980's. Twenty-two cottages were built beside the mine. There was little discussion on asbestos until 1996, when a summer cottage was auctioned off and the asbestos hazard became a major factor in the selling process. The issue raised concern, which started an argument between the interested parties, i.e. summer cottage owners, community authorities, the previous mine owner, and other inhabitants.

New investigations in Paakkila were started to assess the existing risks of asbestos in the environment. Asbestos fibres were analyzed from air, soil, lake water and sediment, and wildlife samples. Asbestos was found ubiquitously in the environment, but the air concentrations (the main exposure route for humans) were lower than often found in urban air. Thus, the actual risk and the potential risk seemed to be quite different. In addition, many other values than health were involved in the problem, e.g. property and recreational values, threats to daily life and fairness.

This was the starting point for our effort to build an explicit description of relevant and important factors, including 1) scientific data about exposures and dose-effect relationships; 2) social data about values, involved parties, and concerns; and 3) policy data about possible solutions to the problems related to asbestos including measures to reduce the asbestos exposure and measures to alleviate dissatisfaction or fear in the society.

Building the Pyrkilo

The scope of the network was narrowed to the community of Tuusniemi. Although there is asbestos also in the neighboring community Outokumpu, it was considered to bring few new viewpoints compared to the increased complexicity. The work was started by listing cause-effect relationships about physico-medical aspects of asbestos. Local sources and exposure routes were characterized. Citizen's attitudes and concerns were explored from two TV programs about Paakkila produced in 1978 and 1998. In addition, two scientist leading the risk assessment process were interviewed about people's concerns. This second-hand knowledge will be complemented by interviews in Paakkila.

The gathered data was organized and processed as items that fell into the following categories: 1) factors and effects, which were causally related to each other (and the effects often act as factors to some other effects); 2) data, which support the relevence of an item in the Pyrkilo (e.g. exposures in different occupations and dose-responses); 3) values, which are presented by any of the involved parties; 4) policy options, which show possible actions in the aim of reaching the expressed values; and 5) questions, which point out issues that are important for understanding or using the network but which are unknown at present.

The items were connected to each other on logical basis. Each connection describes the relationhip of the two items. Usually the relationship is simply "causes" or more generally "affects". The arrow points out the causal direction. Effort was put to express the items in such a way that the relationships need little or no explanation.

Items may have a hierarchial structure and contain sub-items. This structure was expressed by presenting sub-items as boxes inside the item. Relationships may be relevant for the whole item or for one sub-item only. The arrows were drawn from and to the boxes accordingly.


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Figure 1. Pyrkilo network (explicit factor-effect-value network) about Paakkila asbestos mine case. Two main paths of cause-effect relationships are presented with large shaded-in arrows. "Classical" health-oriented path on left, "social" path on right. Both arrows start from policy options and end to the final effects, which possess negative values and are to be avoided. Values are expressed in shaded boxes, policy options in the hatched box. The critical questions in the anchorage of the issue are presented in the box with thick lines.

The results are presented as a Pyrkilo network (Figure 1.). The asbestos problem in Paakkila appeared to be complicated, and a strictly health-based approach would have oversimplified the issue. Two general paths could be drawn: the "classical" exposure-effect path with definite endpoints (lung cancer, asbestosis), and another path with social and cultural aspects with endpoints difficult to measure (stress, property value, life style). Occasionally, health risks were considered negligible, which meant that all policy options were motivated by other than health values. In any case, both paths need to be worked through to get a good picture of the whole problem.

The risk assessment - risk management process produced very different results depending on the frame of references. Conclusions changed according to the anchorage of the issue. When the asbestos exposure was compared to that of asbestos workers, many normal activities in the area were considered unacceptable. E.g. digging or house building in the Paakkila area cause significant increases in asbestos in the air due to the natural sources in the soil. In contrast, the direct additional health risk caused by asbestos seemed small when it was compared to the side-effects of necessary policy actions (e.g. land usage restrictions are likely to change life styles and decrease the property values of the buildings). In addition, the situation could be seen as remarkably improved, as the present exposure was several orders of magnitude lower than the amounts of asbestos that people already had inhaled during past decades.

Several points can be picked up from the Pyrkilo. First, there are still research needs about exposure in the area and about the relevance of lake water as an asbestos source. Second, more should be known about the citizen's opinions and values in order to address their concerns and to avoid excessive investments on solving secondary problems. Third, there are potential sources of asbestos. As an example, the exposure that occurs in the old mine buildings (nowadays used as a machine workshop) is not known, and there are no plans for emission reduction.

Relationships between items were presented on a very general level. This may be enough when Pyrkilo is used for summarizing and pointing out relevant issues. In contrast, to be able to evaluate pros and cons of different policy options, more specific and detailed relationships are needed.


Asbestos case in Paakkila is complicated, and social and other values were found to be in a major role when the problem was analyzed. These issues complemented the classical health-oriented approach. Research needs were identified both in "classical" and "social" path.

The frame of reference appeared to be critical in the inference of the results of the risk assessment. The comparison of exposure to present occupational standards resulted in stricter approach than the comparison of side effects caused by policy options.

Pyrkilo should be developed further if it is wanted to offer rational basis for selecting between policy options. This would need more data and at least semi-quantitative approach of the relationships used. At the present stage, it was able to raise issues into conversation.

In conclusion, Pyrkilo seems to be a developable method of improving the deliberation process and seeking solutions to complicated environmental health problems.


The essential discussions with Dr. Mikko Holopainen and Prof. Jyrki Liesivuori are highly appreciated.
Tuomisto, J.T., Alm, S., Juuti, S., Kettunen, A., Kurttio, P., Pekkanen, J., Venäläinen, R., Viluksela, M.: Pyrkilo method in a complicated environmental health problem: Paakkila asbestos mine case, Finland. Opasnet 1999. [1]. Accessed 14 Apr 2024. This page has also been published elsewhere: Proceedings of the Finnish Environmental Research Society, 1999.