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Mesothelioma Help Center - Types of Asbestos

Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring fibrous metamorphic minerals: chrysotile, tremolite, actinolite, amosite, crocidolite and anthophyllite. Of the hydrous magnesium silicate variety, asbestos has long been used for a variety of industrial and commercial purposes. Once viewed as a "miracle mineral," asbestos was commonly used as an insulator. Resistant to heat and fire and high in tensile strength, asbestos was used for insulation in buildings, automobile parts and the shipbuilding trades. Miners, harvesting the hazardous mineral on a daily basis, were most at risk of developing mesothelioma because of the amount of direct asbestos exposure they faced.

The health hazards associated with asbestos have been known since the late nineteenth century, though they were ignored for the purpose of business prosperity. A result of increased public awareness and growing health concerns, asbestos was finally regulated under section 112 of the Clean Air Act in 1970.


Types of Asbestos

There are three most commonly used types of asbestos: white, brown, and blue. Brown and blue asbestos are most commonly associated with mesothelioma.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been used for centuries in various products. Asbestos has many attributes that make it valuable, including fire resistance.

Asbestos was used in many products that were made for protection from heat and flame. This included actual clothing, such as gloves, to stuffing asbestos insulation into electrical conduit, to using asbestos to make fire proof cloth for use in power plants or petroleum refineries.

Asbestos also has excellent insulation and noise deadening qualities. This meant that asbestos was used in many construction products, including floor and ceiling tiles and wall board. Any home built before 1978 probably contains asbestos somewhere.

Asbestos exposure occurs when the asbestos that is in the products becomes damaged. Once damaged, the asbestos fibers are released into the air. The fibers are microscopic, smaller even than a grain of pollen, and invisible to the naked eye. The asbestos fibers, if inhaled or ingested, can become lodged into the body where it can create severe medical problems.

There are two families of asbestos, the Amphibole family and the Serpentine family, which differ based on the structure of their mineral crystals.


Amphibole Asbestos

The mineral fibers in Amphibole asbestos are chain-like, while Serpentine mineral fibers are in layered sheets. This can be seen under the microscope. There are five different types of Amphiboles: Amosite ("brown asbestos"), Crocidolite ("blue asbestos"), Anthophyllite, Tremolite, and Actinolite.


Amosite

A type of Amphibole asbestos that is made up of mineral fibers formed by crystals that look chain-like. Amosite is also called "brown asbestos" takes its name from the asbestos mines of South Africa.


Crocidolite

Crocidolite is one of the five types of Amphibole asbestos. This means the fibers in Crocidolite are made up of mineral crystals that look like chains. Crocidolite is often called "blue asbestos," and occurs naturally in Austrial, South Africa, the former Soviet Union, and Canada.


Actinolite

One of the more rare forms of asbestos. It is a mineral with fibers that form in manner of the Amphibole family - which means the fibers are made of crystals that are chain-like in appearance. Like two other rare forms of asbestos, Tremolite and Anthophyllite, Actinolite is found mainly as a contaminant in other minerals. Actinolite was not used commercially as were chrysotile, amosite, and, to a lesser extent, crocidolite.


Anthophyllite

One of the more rare forms of asbestos. It is a mineral with fibers that form in the Amphibole family - which means the fibers are made of crystals that are chain-like in appearance. Like two other rare forms of asbestos, Tremolite and Actinolite, Anthophyllite is found mainly as a contaminant in other minerals. Anthophyllite was not use commercially as were chrysotile, amosite, and, to a lesser extent, crocidolite.


Chrysotile

The most common type of asbestos, it is also known as "white asbestos," and Chrysotile comprises approximately 90%-95% of all asbestos in the United States. It is made up of minerals which crystallize in the "serpentine" pattern, which means its crystals are formed in sheets. Chrysotile has been linked with all asbestos-related diseases, including asbestosis, lunc cnacer, cand mesothelioma.


Asbestos fibers are extremely durable and are heat and fire resistant. Asbestos also serves as a strong binder for other materials. Because of these properties, asbestos was used in over 3000 different products in a variety of industrial, commercial, and consumer products. Because of their size and shape, asbestos fibers can easily become airborne and can remain in the air for long periods of time. Once asbestos settles, it can be redistributed into the air easily through a process called reentrainment. Unfortunately, once asbestos fibers are inhaled or swallowed, they tend to remain in the body for many years.

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