Chrysotile Asbestos

Exposure to asbestos is responsible for over 100,000 deaths globally each year, and the vast majority of the exposure that takes place is to chrysotile asbestos. The designation “asbestos” is an umbrella term that covers a number of different minerals that have been valued for their strength, resistance to chemicals and ability to insulate against heat and flame. There are two basic types of asbestos – serpentine and amphibole. Chrysotile is a serpentine asbestos material that has a soft, fibrous appearance when found in nature. When chrysotile asbestos is looked at under a microscope, it wraps around itself in a spiral or serpentine shape. This structure made it particularly useful in the manufacture of fire-resistant clothing and textiles, in conveyor belts exposed to high heat environments, and in construction materials requiring strength.

Though all types of asbestos can cause cancer, exposure to chrysotile, which is also known as white asbestos, has been determined to be most common, while some amphibole asbestos types are viewed as being more deadly. This is because the longer, straighter amphibole asbestos fibers more easily become embedded in the cells of the lung’s lining. But a recent study of the persistence of chrysotile asbestos compared to amphibole asbestos found that though chrysotile can more easily be dislodged upon initial exposure by the lung’s protective actions (i.e. coughing), once the fibers do become embedded they remain in place and are just as harmful as the amphibole types are.

In addition to its role in malignant mesothelioma, chrysotile asbestos is also responsible for many cases of asbestosis, asbestos-related lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases. Though the asbestos industry argues that chrysotile asbestos is safer than amphibole varieties of asbestos because it is not as easily embedded in the cells, the fact that it represents more than 90% of the asbestos used industrially makes this argument moot: asbestos-related diseases are largely dependent on exposure and dose, and those who have been exposed to asbestos in the workplace or in their immediate environment are far more likely to have been exposed to chrysotile than any other type of the carcinogenic material.

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