Asbestos, a fibrous mined mineral:
When asbestos crystals initially cool, the molecules line up parallel to one another forming hair like crystal
lattices. Asbestos minerals have three cleavage plains as do other gemstones. Asbestos however contains a
cleavage plain not as strong as the other two allowing a natural break down of the material that resembles
This "break-down" process or rendering the asbestos material "fri-able" can continue occurring; one large
asbestos fiber can ultimately become the source of literally hundreds of much smaller, thinner, more harmful
fibers. As asbestos fibers become broken down like microscopic needles and become lighter they easily become
airborne and disperse, remaining suspended by air current. The majority of respirable asbestos fibers are
invisible to the unaided human eye because their size can be as small as 3.0 µm in length and can be as thin
as 0.01 µm in comparison to human hair that ranges in size from 17 to 181 µm in width. There is a great
concern for asbestos exposure during real-estate renovation, restoration, or home-improvement projects
conducted with-out first performing the required asbestos testing, followed by appropriate asbestos removal
practices of the asbestos containing materials.
The fri-ability of an asbestos containing product is determined by the strength of the matrix structure and
whether it can be crushed or pulverized by hand pressure. Friable asbestos materials are of the most initial
concern due to their ease of damage and probability of becoming airborne. Non-friable asbestos products can
release substantial quantities of asbestos fibers into their environments as well. However, generally the force
given to crush or pulverize the matrix structure is greater than hand pressure.
Common uses of asbestos:
Asbestos fiber through generations proved more and more useful in many conveniences such as our break
shoes, covering electrical wiring, fire retardant clothing, underground water pipe mains, sound proofing, fire
proofing, decorative textures, flooring materials....the list goes on and on. When the near indestructible
nature of the material is considered it then becomes clear as to how inhalation, or ingestion of the material may
result in long term health effects.
In the United States, chrysotile, the “white” asbestos mined and obtained from serpentine rock has been the
most common type of asbestos commercially used. Chrysotile asbestos is often present in a wide variety of
materials, including but not limited to:
Sheetrock taping, drywall or plaster mud and texture coatings, vinyl floor tiles, sheeting,
adhesives and ceiling tiles, heat duct wrap or seam tape, plasters and stucco's, acoustical
ceilings putty, fireproofing or insulation, interior fire doors, roofing tars and felts, exterior
shingles or siding "transite" panels, counter-tops, pipe insulation, caulk, gaskets, clutch
plates, brake pads and shoes, stage curtains and fire blankets. Asbestos linings were once
used in automobile brake pads and shoes.
Amosite a trade name for the amphiboles belonging to the Cummingtonite- Grunerite solid solution series, and
crocidolite also known as riebeckite, “both part of the Amphibole group” were also used in many products until
the early 1980s, when the use of asbestos in the amphibole group was banned. Some of these products were,
but not limited to:
Low density insulation board and ceiling tiles, thermal and chemical insulation (i.e., fire rated
doors, limpet spray, lagging and gaskets), asbestos-cement sheets and pipes for construction,
casing for water and electrical/telecommunication services.
Other natural occurring but not currently regulated asbestos minerals, such as richterite and winchite may be
found as contaminate in products such as the vermiculite containing zonolite, commonly used as attic
insulation. These forms of asbestos are no less harmful than chrysotile, amosite, or crocidolite.
Many are under the impression that the Environmental Protection Agency Asbestos in your home (EPA)
has banned and phased out all asbestos containing materials available for use on our market. This is simply not
true, there are still materials that can legally contain trace amounts of asbestos.
For a clarification of products which legally contain asbestos visit the EPA's clarification statement found at the
Asbestos related diseases:
Asbestosis – A scarring of the lung tissue from an acid produced by the body's attempt to dissolve the
fibers. The scarring may eventually become so severe that the lungs can no longer function. The latency
period (the time it takes for the disease to develop) is often 10-20 years.
Mesothelioma – A cancer of the mesothelial lining of the lungs and the chest cavity, the peritoneum
(abdominal cavity) or the pericardium (a sac surrounding the heart). It is believed that mesothelioma is caused
by generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) by the asbestos fibers. Asbestos exposure is linked to at
least 50% of patients developing malignant mesothelioma. Malignant mesothelioma has a peak incidence 35-
45 years after asbestos exposure. Median survival for patients with malignant mesothelioma is 11 months.
Asbestos has a synergistic effect with tobacco smoking in the causation of pleural mesothelioma.
Cancer – Lung cancer has been linked to asbestos. Asbestos exposure alone can cause lung cancer, but
asbestos exposure and tobacco smoking have a synergistic effect, greatly increasing the chances of
contracting lung cancer. Cancer of the larynx has been linked to asbestos. Some studies suggest that
asbestos exposure is linked to a slightly increased risk of stomach, pharyngeal, and colorectal cancer.
The Environmental Working Group Auction Fund has estimated that in the United States, about 9,900 people
die each year of asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, and
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An example of how a friable asbestos containing material
may be broken down to microscopic "needle like" fibers is
shown left to right below:
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