Six types of asbestos are naturally found on the earth. Three of the six types of asbestos are desirable components for commercial products because they are flexible, strong, highly resistant to heat and chemicals, and have a low electrical conductivity. The problem is that asbestos fibers are extremely harmful to human health, causing a range of physical complications including asbestos cancer and other serious conditions.
Asbestos can be broken down into two groups: serpentine and amphibole. Serpentine types of asbestos develop in layered forms and have curly fibers. Amphibole types of asbestos develop in a chain-like structure and have straight fibers. Amphibole types of asbestos are the most hazardous to human health, though all asbestos can cause injury.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a term for six naturally occurring forms of silicate minerals that have a number of physical properties which have made them useful in many industrial applications. The fibrous nature of these minerals makes them natural binding agents when broken down into pure form. Asbestos is also extremely resilient and has a very high resistance to heat and fire. All of those features have made asbestos a popular raw material for insulation, roofing and siding, for gasket material and for sealing agents such as wall compound. The more flexible of the asbestos fibers can be woven into textiles; these fabrics were used extensively during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries as fire curtains, for heat resistant clothing and gloves, and for industrial belts used in heat curing processes. Asbestos is a common naturally occurring mineral that has had immense popularity as an industrial and commercial raw material. The fibers that make up this mineral are also known carcinogens and have proven lethal for the hundreds of thousands of workers who inhaled them while working with or around asbestos products.
Common Types of Asbestos
The three types of asbestos most commonly used in products throughout the world include:
- Chrysotile - Chrysotile is the only type of asbestos still mined on a large scale throughout the world. In fact, ninety to ninety five percent of all the asbestos found in buildings and various products is from the Chrysotile group of asbestos. Chrysotile types of asbestos are white curly fibers and are known as magnesium silicate.
- Amosite - Of the types of asbestos commonly used in the world, Amosite is the second most prevalent. Amosite is composed of a brown to grey colored straight fiber that contains iron. Commercial production of this type of asbestos was terminated in the late 1990s.
- Crocidolite - Crocidolite is the third most commonly found asbestos chemical. Crocidolite is blue in color and is used in high temperature applications. These types of asbestos contain sodium iron magnesium silicate and are composed of straight or amphibole fibers.
The other three types of asbestos all belong to the amphibole group. These types of asbestos are very rare and are found as contaminants in other minerals. These types of asbestos include: anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite.
Health Risk of Asbestos
Though all types of asbestos are hazardous to human health, chrysotile is the type that commonly causes health problems because it is used most frequently. All types of asbestos are dangerous when the fibers or particles become airborne. Asbestos fibers are not visible to the naked eye, but can cause mesothelioma, asbestos lung cancer, respiratory disorders, and other health complications when ingested or inhaled.
Government Regulation of Asbestos
Although the government began regulating asbestos use in the mid-1970s, asbestos can still be found in various older buildings and products. The government never banned asbestos, so it can also be found in products imported from other countries.