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Asbestos Characteristics and Identification

ASBESTOS is a commercial term used for fibrous silicate minerals. The fibers of asbestos are chemically inert as well as heat resistant and flexible. Asbestos then can be different minerals, but most commonly it is CHRYSOTILE (a variety of serpentine). Two other common asbestos minerals are Crocidolite and Amosite. The three most common types of asbestos are shown below.

Asbestos is only a hazard when small particles become airborne, are inhaled and deposited within the lungs. Increased incidence of several illnesses including asbestosis, a debilitating lung disease, lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lung or stomach cavity lining, have been observed in individuals who were persistently exposed to high levels of airborne asbestos in work environments such as mining, milling, shipbuilding, construction and manufacturing. Asbestos-containing materials in buildings pose no risk to health unless asbestos fibers become airborne and are inhaled. Intact, sealed and undisturbed materials are not a hazard.



Chrysotile: A white curly fiber, most products are made of this type of asbestos. It is a magnesium silicate.

Chrysotile fibers are curly as opposed to fibers from amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite which are needlelike. Chrysotile, along with other types of asbestos, has been banned in dozens of countries and is only allowed in the United States and Europe in very limited circumstances. Chrysotile has been used more than any other type and accounts for about 95% of the asbestos found in buildings in North America. Applications where chrysotile might be used include the use of joint compound. It is more flexible than amphibole types of asbestos; it can be spun and woven into fabric. The most common use is within corrugated asbestos cement roof sheets typically used for outbuildings, warehouses and garages. It is also found as flat sheets used for ceilings and sometimes for walls and floors. Numerous other items have been made containing chrysotile including brake linings, cloth behind fuses (for fire protection), pipe insulation, floor tiles, and rope seals for boilers.

Crocidolite: A member of the amphibole group, crocidolite is blue, straight fibers. It is made of sodium iron magnesium silicate.


Amosite: Brown or gray, straight amosite fibers made of iron and magnesium.

Amosite is a trade name for the amphiboles belonging to the Cummingtonite - Grunerite solid solution series, commonly from Africa, named as an acronym from Asbestos Mines of South Africa. It is found most frequently as a fire retardant in thermal insulation products and ceiling tiles.

Weathering of fibrous asbestos sheeting showing loose fibres.


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