How Many Common Types of Asbestos Are There?

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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.

Give a read to the blog to know about asbestos, common types of asbestos, their characteristics and many more.

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 used as a construction material from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Asbestos is divided into two primary groups- serpentine and amphibole, 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 FamilySerpentine Asbestos Amphibole Asbestos
Appearance Wavy or curly Straight and stiff
Fibre type Long and pliableNeedle-like
ExamplesChrysotile 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?

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.

What are the Common Types of Asbestos?

Asbestos is a combination of six naturally occurring minerals, all with slightly differing properties. They are-

Asbestos

Chrysotile- 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 has been widely used due to its heat resistant properties and can often be found in roofs, ceilings, walls and floors of buildings. Besides, Chrysotile asbestos is also used in the automobile industry 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: Amosite asbestos consists of straight fibres and is brown in colour. Amosite asbestos has anti-condensation and sound-proofing properties. It contains iron and magnesium and is commonly found in cement sheets as well as pipe insulation.

Lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis can occur due to brown asbestos exposure.

Crocidolite: Crocidolite 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.

Crocidolite was commonly used in old steam engine insulation and for reinforcement of other materials such as plastics or concrete. It has been responsible for more diseases and deaths than other types.

Tremolite: Tremolite asbestos fibres can be brown, grey, white,  green, or translucent. Tremolite was not used commercially but could often contaminate other minerals such as chrysotile, vermiculite, and talc. 

Anthophyllite: 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: Actinolite asbestos appears as dark green crystals or fibrous aggregates. Actinolite asbestos is often found as a contaminate within different commercial asbestos products like paints, sealants, children’s toys, and so on.

Asbestos Awareness for Architects and Designers

Asbestos Awareness for Architects and Designers

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Other Minerals that may contain Asbestos

Asbestos may be found 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

Talc is a natural mineral that contains oxygen, hydrogen, magnesium and silicon. It is used in crayons, chalk, paints, beauty products, including facial powders, eye shadows, and baby powder.

Talc has become a significant concern among health care professionals due to asbestos contamination. Asbestos-contaminated talc links to cases of lung cancer, mesothelioma and ovarian cancer.

Vermiculite

Vermiculite is another natural mineral commonly used in gardening, packaging and insulation. It expands to long, accordion-like strands when heat is applied to this mineral in a process called exfoliation. 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.”

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Why is Asbestos Hazardous?

Asbestos is a highly hazardous material that causes cancer. The health risks associated with it were not recognised until people had already developed the life-threatening complications of exposure. 

When asbestos is either damaged or disturbed through maintenance, installation and demolition works, the result leads to fibres being released into the air. Since the fibres are thin and long, they can quickly enter the lungs when inhaled. 

Exposure to asbestos can lead to-

Asbestosis

Asbestosis involves scarring of the lungs due to the inhalation of damaging asbestos fibres. It can cause shortness of breath and irreversible damage. 

Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and the lining that surrounds the lower digestive tract. This cancer is caused by asbestos exposure and in most cases, it is fatal.

Lung Cancer

Asbestos exposure can also lead to the development of lung cancer, which is much like mesothelioma. 

Pleural Thickening

Pleural Thickening is a lung condition that results after heavy asbestos exposure. The pleura, which is the lining of the lung, thickens and swells. The lung itself gets squeezed and results in shortness of breath, chest pain and discomfort if the condition is severe.

Conclusion

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, asbestos is still used in some countries like India, China, Indonesia and Russia, which should be a matter of concern.

If you are looking for Asbestos awareness courses, join the best online learning platform Lead Academy. To know more, click here.

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