Chrysotile asbestos is by far the most common form of the mineral used for industrial and commercial products throughout the history of asbestos usage. There are six basic types of asbestos as identified by geologists and chrysotile differs from the others in a couple of important characteristics. It is the only form of asbestos to consist of serpentine, or curly fibers. All of the other forms of asbestos are in the amphibole group and are formed of straight, needle-like fibers. It is also flexible enough to be woven into fabric.
Safety Concerns and Chrysotile Asbestos
Some apologists for the continuing use of asbestos claim that because chrysotile fibers are not straight and sharp as with other forms of the mineral, it is somehow safer for human exposure and thus an acceptable risk. However ninety to ninety five percent of all asbestos products manufactured have been made from chrysotile asbestos, from 1874 when asbestos was first used for industrial applications to the present. That means ninety percent or more of the illnesses and deaths associated with asbestos exposure have been brought on by chrysotile asbestos fibers.
Mesothelioma, asbestosis and asbestos lung cancer are caused by these microscopic asbestos fibers that are either inhaled or ingested accidentally by people who are exposed to them, which usually has occurred in a workplace setting. Old or deteriorating asbestos products give off fibers as the products fray; these fibers are often airborne in dust clouds and can be inhaled without notice. The body is incapable of shedding them and they are resilient materials that once within the body remain there for decades. Fibers that become embedded in the lung lining or abdominal tissue may eventually cause the development of mesothelioma cancer.
Because chrysotile asbestos is good material for weaving it was used to manufacture fire resistant clothing, drapes, gloves and textiles used for industrial purposes. One of the common applications was the manufacture of the long belts used to carry paper pulp through the drying process in pulp and paper mills. These belts moved at high speed through a heated drying area and as they became worn they gave off chrysotile fibers that were in the large amounts of dust generated during the process. Thousands of mill workers have developed mesothelioma and/or asbestosis as the result of exposure to these chrysotile fibers.
Danger of Removal
Asbestos products have been out of production in the United States for decades, but many buildings constructed prior to 1975 still contain asbestos insulation or other products such as flooring, roofing, ceiling tiles, and heating duct insulation that contain asbestos. The EPA estimates that ninety percent of these products are manufactured from chrysotile asbestos, which has been declared a carcinogen along with every other form of the mineral. In millions of houses and buildings there are asbestos building products that today are decades old and in danger of decaying, at which point they are capable of crumbling. Asbestos products in this state are referred to as “friable,” a condition that makes them much more hazardous than products which haven’t suffered the aging process.
Contractors that are hired to remove chrysotile asbestos insulation, roofing or flooring must be licensed as asbestos removal professionals and must observe strict safety precautions which minimize employee or public exposure to asbestos fibers that may be released in the removal process. Workers wear protective clothing and a breathing apparatus; homes or commercial structures that are being cleared of asbestos materials are fitted with protective coverings that contain the dust released in demolition or remodeling activities.
Chrysotile Asbestos and Cancer
This form of asbestos mineral has been certified as a carcinogen regardless of the dismissal by industry advocates of its relative safety. The correlation between chrysotile asbestos exposure and mesothelioma cancer has been made abundantly clear by the hundreds of thousands of victims that have developed malignancies as the result of asbestos exposure which occurred when chrysotile products were legal and in widespread use. The concept of a carcinogen being a little “less lethal” and therefore an acceptable raw material has no support among members of the medical community and victims of asbestos diseases.