Types of Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral chemically composed of a combination of silicon, hydrogen, oxygen and several metals.

It is microscopically composed of crystals which are in the form of flexible, long and silky fibers.

There are three common types of asbestos:

White asbestos

Also known as chrysotile. Chemically, it’s a magnesium silicate compound. Its color ranges from grayish white to green or yellow. It is present in the form of three subtypes; clinochrysotile, orthocrysotile and parachrysotile. The three types however, are very difficult to distinguish from each other. This type can be found though out the world.

It is the most common type of asbestos found in products. It consists of white curly fibers obtained from serpentine rocks. It is a flexible type of asbestos and can be used in the fabric industry as well as the production of the joint compound (which is commonly referred to as “mud”). Like all types of asbestos it has been associated with malignancies. Not only does it have a history of producing malignancies in animals but also in workers exposed to asbestos for long periods of time as well as those living in close proximity to areas producing this type of asbestos.

Its carcinogenicity has been point of fervent debate. Its fibers are usually easily dissolved and therefore expelled out of the body without the risk of lung scarring or asbestosis. However, chrysotile used for industrial purposes is commonly contaminated with termolite. Since termolite belongs to the amphibole group, its fibers are harder and therefore less likely to be expelled. As a result, chrysotile contaminated with termolite is more likely to penetrate the lung tissue and cause scarring and complications.

Brown/Gray asbestos

Also known as amosite. It contains magnesium and iron and is formed of straight fibers. Is commonly obtained from Africa and its name is actually an acronym that stands for Asbestos Mines of South Africa. Exposure to it poses a health risk like all other types of asbestos. It is primarily used in heat insulating materials.

Blue asbestos

Otherwise known as crocidolite. Belongs to the same group of amphiboles as brown asbestos. It is a sodium iron magnesium silicate compound and is microscopically formed of straight, dark blue fibers. It is commonly considered the most dangerous form of asbestos.

There are additional forms of asbestos like termolite, actinolite and anthophyllite

They are also used industrially but not as commonly as the previously mentioned types.

Other natural forms that are not under any regulations include richterite and winchite. They are considered to be asbestiform rather than types of asbestos even though they are no less harmful. They can be found as contaminants in many products but are currently not under any regulations regarding asbestos

The most widely mined type of asbestos is chrysotile. Termolite is also sometimes mined in small amounts in India.

Crocidolite and Amosite are no longer used in commercial products and have not been used for the last four years ever since production ended in South Africa.

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