Health and Safety
How Many Common Types of Asbestos Are There
Asbestos is a silicate mineral that was widely used to construct buildings during the 1900s. It is known for its strength, flexibility, low electrical conductivity, and high resistance to heat and chemicals. However, asbestos fibres are a potential life risk element. Exposure to this fibre can cause fatal diseases like lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. But do you know how many common types of asbestos are there? Give a read to the blog to know about asbestos, common types of asbestos, their characteristics and many more.
Table of Content
- What is Asbestos?
- Serpentine Asbestos Vs. Amphibole Asbestos
- What was Asbestos used for?
- Who were at Risk due to Asbestos Exposure?
- What are the Common Types of Asbestos?
- Why is Asbestos Hazardous?
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material that has been utilised in the construction industry for its strength, insulation and fire-resistant properties. Though asbestos is a highly dangerous material, it was extensively in use as a construction material from the 1950s to the 1980s.
Asbestos is divided into two primary groups- serpentine and amphibole families, which differ in their physical characteristics. While serpentine asbestos develops in a layered form, amphibole asbestos has a chain-like structure.
Serpentine Asbestos Vs. Amphibole Asbestos
|Asbestos Family||Serpentine Asbestos||Amphibole Asbestos|
|Appearance||Wavy or curly||Straight and stiff|
|Fibre type||Long and pliable||Needle-like|
|Examples||Chrysotile asbestos||Crocidolite, Tremolite, Anthophyllite, Amosite and Actinolite.|
What was Asbestos used for?
As mentioned above, Asbestos was widely used in the construction industry from the mid-19th century, and its use increased at the start of the 20th century.
Due to its versatility, asbestos had many applications like fire-proof coatings, pipe insulation, concrete and building materials and various other uses, both industrial and commercial.
Who were at Risk due to Asbestos Exposure?
The people who were at high risk include:
- Insulation workers
- Demolition and wrecking crews
What are the Common Types of Asbestos?
Asbestos is a combination of six naturally occurring minerals, all with slightly differing properties. They are-
Chrysotile, being the most common type of asbestos, falls into the serpentine category. Also referred to as ‘white asbestos’, Chrysotile asbestos is long, curly fibres weaved to make sheets.
Chrysotile preset in roofs, ceilings, walls and floors of buildings has heat-resistant properties. Besides, the automobile industry also uses it for brake linings, gaskets and boiler seals, and insulation for pipes and appliances.
However, Chrysotile asbestos is responsible for the development of mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer in the lung lining.
Amosite brown asbestos consists of straight fibres and is brown in colour. It asbestos has anti-condensation and sound-proofing properties. It contains iron and magnesium and is present in cement sheets as well as pipe insulation.
Lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis can occur due to brown asbestos exposure.
Crocidolite blue asbestos is considered to be the most dangerous type of asbestos due to its physical properties. It takes the form of blue, straight fibres. The small size of the crocidolite fibres makes them easier to inhale.
Old steam engine insulation use Crocidolite for reinforcement of other materials such as plastics or concrete. It has been responsible for more diseases and deaths than other types.
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Tremolite asbestos fibres can be brown, grey, white, green, or translucent. It was not used commercially but could often contaminate other minerals such as chrysotile, vermiculite, and talc.
Anthophyllite asbestos can be white, grey or brown. Like tremolite asbestos, anthophyllite minerals were not used commercially, but instead, found their way into products made with vermiculite and talc. The miners of vermiculite and talc can be at high risk for developing asbestos-related diseases due to the anthophyllite contamination within the substances they mine.
Actinolite asbestos appears as dark green crystals or fibrous aggregates. You will often find this asbestos as a contaminate within different commercial asbestos products like paints, sealants, children’s toys, and so on.
Other Minerals that may contain Asbestos:
Asbestos is present in other minerals such as talc and vermiculite. During the process of mining these minerals, their proximity to naturally occurring asbestos can result in contamination.
Talc is a natural mineral that contains oxygen, hydrogen, magnesium and silicon. It is present in crayons, chalk, paints, and beauty products, including facial powders, eye shadows, and baby powder.
Talc has become a significant concern among health care professionals due to asbestos contamination. Further Asbestos-contaminated talc links to cases of lung cancer, mesothelioma and ovarian cancer.
Vermiculite is another natural mineral, commonly used type in gardening, packaging and insulation materials. In addition, when you apply heat to this mineral it expands to long, accordion-like strands. Further, the lightweight material is chemical and fire resistant.
Just like talc, vermiculite is safe on its own but if it is contaminated with asbestos and gets disturbed, it could cause the needle-like asbestos fibres to become airborne which further could be the reason for lung diseases.
According to mesothelioma, “Between 1925 and 1990, vermiculite was mined near Libby, Montana. This mine accounted for more than 50% of vermiculite production worldwide. However, the mine was contaminated with tremolite asbestos and asbestos-like fibres. Concerns for workers and residents in Libby arose and the EPA became involved with cleanup in the area.”
Why is Asbestos Hazardous?
Asbestos is a highly hazardous material that causes cancer. In addition, people didn’t recognise its health risk until they developed the life-threatening complications of exposure.
When you damage or disturb asbestos through maintenance, installation and demolition work, fibres release into the air. Further, these fibres are thin and long and can quickly enter the lungs when inhaled.
Exposure to asbestos can lead to-
- Lung cancer
- Pleural Thickening
Asbestosis involves scarring of the lungs due to the inhalation of damaging asbestos fibres. It can cause shortness of breath and irreversible damage.
Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and the lining that surrounds the lower digestive tract. Asbestos exposure causes this cancer which can be fatal in most cases.
Asbestos exposure can also lead to the development of lung cancer, which is much like mesothelioma.
Pleural Thickening is a lung condition that results after heavy asbestos exposure. The pleura, which is the lining of the lung, thickens and swells. It results in squeezed lungs causing shortness of breath, chest pain and discomfort.
How exposure to asbestos could affect your health?
Asbestosis is a dangerous lung scarring disorder that usually develops after years of chronic asbestos exposure. This disorder can cause gradual shortness of breath and can be deadly in extreme situations.
What disease is caused by these asbestos types?
Please read the answer above to the question “How exposure to asbestos could affect your health?”
Does asbestos cause any other health problems?
Asbestosis patients are also more likely to develop other serious conditions, such as pleural disease, mesothelioma or lung cancer.
Are all types of asbestos dangerous?
According to medical specialists, all kinds of asbestos are carcinogenic, and no degree of exposure is safe.
Which is the most dangerous of these asbestos types?
Crocidolite asbestos, sometimes known as blue asbestos, is the most dangerous kind of amphibole asbestos.
How to manage different types of asbestos?
Take the following precautions when managing asbestos:
- If at all possible, avoid disrupting asbestos-containing items.
- If you are not a licenced contractor, make sure you are aware of the asbestos-containing materials.
- Ensure that everybody who will be working with asbestos has proper training.
It is important to be aware of what asbestos is and what it can cause, as this mineral causes life-threatening diseases. Despite its hazardous aspects, people still use asbestos in countries like India, China, Indonesia and Russia, which is a matter of concern.
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