What Are the Types of Asbestos?

Most people talk about asbestos as if it was a single, cancer-causing material. The generic term refers to a group of minerals that occur naturally. All the group’s minerals are firm, durable, and react similarly to exposure to heat (fire), electricity, and chemical corrosion. The types of asbestos include six fiber-like minerals: actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite, chrysotile, crocidolite, and tremolite.

No matter what type of asbestos you’re looking at, the individual fibers are too small to see with the human eye. Typically, the size of a single fiber is between 0.1 and 10 µm in length – less than a tenth the width of a strand of human hair.

Types of asbestos are categorized according to the appearance of fibers beneath a microscope.

  • Serpentine asbestos fibers are long and curly. Globally, about 95% of asbestos mining produces the serpentine variety.
    • Primarily, chrysotile is the most recognized form of serpentine asbestos.
  • Amphibole asbestos fibers are shorter and straighter than the serpentine form. Subsequently, amphibole fibers end up deeper in the airways and trapped inside tissue cells.
    • Actinolite, anthophyllite, amosite, crocidolite, and tremolite are forms of amphibole fibers.

Colors of Asbestos

In its raw form, asbestos comes in several different colors. However, you probably won’t be able to determine a type of asbestos just by looking at it. When added to other products and construction materials (such as cement and bricks), the fiber’s color is hidden.

Below, the list details which color relates to each form of mineral fiber.

Type Color Uses
Actinolite Ranges from white to dark gray but may also be a pale yellowish or dark green Insulation, paints, sealants, drywall, and mixed into cement
Amosite Brown Cement, chemical and electrical insulation, fire protection materials, gaskets, insulation board, plumbing insulation, roofing, and tiles
Anthophyllite Ranges from yellow to brown A rare form of amphibole not used in many commercial products. Occasionally, manufactured into cement and insulation.
Chrysotile White Asphalt, brake lining and pads, clutches, disk pads, cement, gaskets, plastics, roofing, and textiles
Crocidolite Blue Cements, insulation, and tiling materials
Tremolite Ranges from milky white to dark green Fabric and textiles, insulation, paints, roofing and plumbing materials, sealants, and talc

BEWARE: You can’t identify asbestos by color or smell. Testing by a lab is the only way to verify the presence of a type of asbestos.

Asbestos causes latent mesothelioma. Think you were exposed? Request a case evaluation to pinpoint the cause and who is responsible.
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What Is Chrysotile?

Chrysotile is a form of serpentine asbestos named for the fiber’s long, curled appearance. Generally, raw chrysotile is white. Chrysotile has a high-tensile strength and is easily woven. In the U.S., it’s the most common type of asbestos used in building construction.

In December 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) risk assessment for asbestos found chrysotile especially dangerous to American workers. Additionally, the EPA continues to evaluate the risk of ongoing uses of chrysotile in the United States.

The EPA further investigates the following uses of chrysotile that pose the highest risk:

  • Aftermarket automotive brakes and lining
  • Asbestos diaphragms in chemical production
  • Oilfield brake blocks
  • Sheet gaskets and other gaskets
  • Vehicle friction products

Today, countries like Canada, China, Russia, and Italy still mine serpentine and other types of asbestos. Moreover, some imported products still contain this toxic mineral.

For instance, chlorine production relies on chrysotile asbestos diaphragm cells comprised of mostly asbestos fibers. About 36% of chlorine manufacturers use asbestos in their chemical production. These companies make up essentially all the raw mineral’s importation to the United States. Additionally, 36% more raw chrysotile was imported in 2020, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Are All Types of Asbestos Dangerous?

Both types of asbestos (amphibole and serpentine) are known to cause exposure-related diseases. Usually, the risk of exposure to amphibole and serpentine fibers doesn’t come from being near the raw form of the mineral – since asbestos is no longer mined in the U.S.

In most cases, the risk of asbestos exposure comes from asbestos-containing materials (like contaminated popcorn ceiling or linoleum tiles). Unfortunately, thousands of products have been manufactured with this carcinogen in the U.S. and abroad – including children’s toys, powder makeup, and shipbuilding materials.

In the U.S., workers in specific industries have exceptionally high risks of exposure. These industries typically handle or work around asbestos-containing materials daily. As such, retired workers in these industries are often diagnosed with work-related cancers and long-term health complications.

Affected industries include:

  • Automotive brake and clutch repair
  • Chemical manufacturing
  • Construction
  • Demolition
  • Electricians
  • Firefighters
  • First responders
  • Home renovation
  • Mining
  • Plumbing
  • Shipbuilding and repair
  • U.S. military (especially Navy and Coast Guard)

The EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulate the handling of asbestos in the workplace. Nationally, air quality limits and personal protective equipment (PPE) laws require employers to adequately protect workers.

However, there is no total ban on asbestos, and this material exists in houses in every state. Sometimes, home renovators and DIY builders suffer asbestos exposure from contaminated products in the home.

Exposure-related Diseases

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Generally, exposure refers to inhaling or swallowing any type of asbestos. All forms of asbestos exposure have been linked to the development of disease.

“Asbestos exposures as short in duration as a few days have caused mesothelioma in humans.” – Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Asbestos Overview

Usually, people are exposed when friable asbestos releases fibers into the air. Airborne asbestos is so light it can stay afloat for several days. Consequently, dust from any asbestos type is dangerous to breathe into your lungs or swallow into your stomach. Exposure-related asbestos diseases include:

  • Asbestosis
  • Colon cancer
  • Pleural plaques
  • Lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma
  • Rectal cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Throat cancer

Most asbestos-caused cancers take years to develop but can lead to significant physical disability. Many people are unaware they were ever exposed in the first place. An experienced asbestos attorney can help clients identify the sources of exposure and companies responsible.

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