Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals,
which all have in common their eponymous asbestiform habit: i.e. long
(roughly 1:20 aspect ratio), thin fibrous crystals, with each visible
fiber composed of millions of microscopic "fibrils" that can be
released by abrasion and other processes. They are commonly known
by their colors, as blue asbestos, brown asbestos, white asbestos, and
Asbestos mining existed more than 4,000 years ago, but large-scale
mining began at the end of the 19th century, when manufacturers and
builders began using asbestos for its desirable physical
properties. Some of those properties are sound absorption, average
tensile strength, affordability, and resistance to fire, heat, and
electricity. It was used in such applications as electrical insulation
for hotplate wiring and in building insulation. When asbestos is used
for its resistance to fire or heat, the fibers are often mixed with
cement or woven into fabric or mats. These desirable properties made
asbestos very widely used.
Asbestos use continued to grow through most
of the 20th century until public knowledge (acting through courts and
legislatures) of the health hazards of asbestos dust outlawed asbestos
in mainstream construction and fireproofing in most countries.
Prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious and fatal
illnesses including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis (a type
of pneumoconiosis). Concern of asbestos-related illness in
modern times began with the 20th century and escalated during the
1920s and 1930s. By the 1980s and 1990s, asbestos trade and use were
heavily restricted, phased out, or banned outright in an increasing
number of countries.
Despite the severity of asbestos-related diseases, the material has
extremely widespread use in many areas. Continuing long-term use of
asbestos after harmful health effects were known or suspected, and the
slow emergence of symptoms decades after exposure ceased, made
asbestos litigation the longest, most expensive mass tort in U.S.
history and a much lesser legal issue in most other countries
involved. Asbestos-related liability also remains an ongoing
concern for many manufacturers, insurers and reinsurers.
2 Types and associated fibers
2.2.3 Other materials
4 History of use
4.1 Early uses
4.2 Industrial era
4.3 Discovery of toxicity
4.4 Usage by industry and product type
4.4.1 Serpentine group
4.4.2 Amphibole group
4.5.1 Developed countries
4.5.2 Outside Europe and North America
4.5.3 11 September 2001 attacks
Asbestos contaminants in other products
5 Health impact
6 Substitutes for asbestos in construction
7 Recycling and disposal
8 See also
11 Further reading
12 External links
Asbestos derives from the ancient Greek ἄσβεστος, meaning
unquenchable or inextinguishable. The word is pronounced
/æsˈbɛstəs/, /æzˈbɛstəs/ or /æzˈbɛstɒs/.
Types and associated fibers
Six mineral types are defined by the United States Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) as "asbestos" including those belonging to the
serpentine class and those belonging to the amphibole class. All six
asbestos mineral types are known to be human carcinogens. The
visible fibers are themselves each composed of millions of microscopic
"fibrils" that can be released by abrasion and other processes.
Blue asbestos (crocidolite). The ruler is 1 cm.
Blue asbestos, teased to show the fibrous nature of the mineral
Serpentine class fibers are curly.
Chrysotile is the only member of
the serpentine class.
Chrysotile, CAS No. 12001-29-5, is obtained from serpentinite rocks
which are common throughout the world. Its idealized chemical formula
Chrysotile appears under the microscope as a
Chrysotile has been used more than any other type and accounts for
about 95% of the asbestos found in buildings in America.
Chrysotile is more flexible than amphibole types of asbestos, and can
be spun and woven into fabric. The most common use was corrugated
asbestos cement roofing primarily for outbuildings, warehouses and
garages. It may also be found in sheets or panels used for ceilings
and sometimes for walls and floors.
Chrysotile has been a component in
joint compound and some plasters. Numerous other items have been made
containing chrysotile including brake linings, fire barriers in
fuseboxes, pipe insulation, floor tiles, residential shingles, and
gaskets for high temperature equipment.
Amphibole class fibers are needle-like. Amosite, crocidolite,
tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite are members of the amphibole
Amosite, CAS No. 12172-73-5, often referred to as brown asbestos, is a
trade name for the amphiboles belonging to the cummingtonite-grunerite
solid solution series, commonly from South Africa, named as a partial
acronym for "
Asbestos Mines of South Africa". One formula given for
amosite is Fe7Si8O22(OH)2.
Amosite is seen under a microscope as a
grey-white vitreous fiber. It is found most frequently as a fire
retardant in thermal insulation products, asbestos insulating board
and ceiling tiles.
Crocidolite, CAS No. 12001-28-4, is the fibrous form of the amphibole
riebeckite, found primarily in southern Africa, but also in Australia
and Bolivia. One formula given for crocidolite is
Crocidolite is seen under a microscope as a
Crocidolite commonly occurs as soft friable fibers. Asbestiform
amphibole may also occur as soft friable fibers but some varieties
such as amosite are commonly straighter. All forms of asbestos are
fibrillar in that they are composed of fibers with breadths less than
1 micrometer in bundles of very great widths.
particularly fine fibers is also referred to as "amianthus".
Other regulated asbestos minerals, such as tremolite asbestos, CAS No.
77536-68-6, Ca2Mg5Si8O22(OH)2; actinolite asbestos, CAS No.
77536-66-4, Ca2(Mg, Fe)5(Si8O22)(OH)2; and anthophyllite asbestos, CAS
No. 77536-67-5, (Mg, Fe)7Si8O22(OH)2; are less commonly used
industrially but can still be found in a variety of construction
materials and insulation materials and have been used in a few
Size of asbestos fibers compared to other particles (USEPA, March
Other natural asbestiform minerals, such as richterite, Na(CaNa)(Mg,
Fe++)5(Si8O22)(OH)2, and winchite, (CaNa)Mg4(Al, Fe3+)(Si8O22)(OH)2,
though not regulated, are said by some to be no less harmful than
tremolite, amosite, or crocidolite. They are termed "asbestiform"
rather than asbestos. Although the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) has not included them in the asbestos standard,
NIOSH and the American Thoracic Society have recommended them for
inclusion as regulated materials because they may also be hazardous to
In 2009, about 9% of world's asbestos production was mined in
Canada. In late 2011, Canada's remaining two asbestos mines, both
located in the Province of Quebec, halted operations. In September
2012, the government in the
Province of Quebec
Province of Quebec halted asbestos
In 2015, 2 million tonnes of asbestos were mined worldwide. The
Russian Federation was the largest producer with about 55% world share
followed by China (20%),
Brazil (15.6%), and Kazakhstan (10.8%).
History of use
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Asbestos use dates back at least 4,500 years, when the inhabitants of
Juojärvi region in East
Finland strengthened earthenware
pots and cooking utensils with the asbestos mineral anthophyllite (see
Asbestos-ceramic). One of the first descriptions of a material
that may have been asbestos is in Theophrastus, On Stones, from around
300 BC, although this identification has been questioned. In both
modern and ancient Greek, the usual name for the material known in
English as "asbestos" is amiantos ("undefiled", "pure"), which was
adapted into the French amiante and Portuguese amianto. In modern
Greek, the word ἀσβεστος or ασβέστης stands
consistently and solely for lime.
The term asbestos is traceable to Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder's
manuscript Natural History, and his use of the term asbestinon,
meaning "unquenchable". While Pliny or his nephew Pliny the
Younger is popularly credited with recognising the detrimental effects
of asbestos on human beings, examination of the primary sources
reveals no support for either claim.
Wealthy Persians amazed guests by cleaning a cloth by exposing it to
fire. For example, according to Tabari, one of the curious items
Khosrow II Parviz, the great
Sassanian king (r.
531–579), was a napkin (Persian: منديل) that he cleaned
simply by throwing it into fire. Such cloth is believed to have been
made of asbestos imported over the Hindu Kush. According to Biruni
in his book, Gems, any cloths made of asbestos (Persian:
آذرشست, āzarshost) were called shostakeh (Persian:
شستكه). Some Persians believed the fiber was the fur of an
animal, called the samandar (Persian: سمندر), which lived in
fire and died when exposed to water, which was where the
former belief that the salamander could tolerate fire originated.
Charlemagne, the first
Holy Roman Emperor
Holy Roman Emperor (800–814), is said to have
had a tablecloth made of asbestos.
Marco Polo recounts having been shown, in a place he calls Ghinghin
talas, "a good vein from which the cloth which we call of salamander,
which cannot be burnt if it is thrown into the fire, is
Some archaeologists believe that ancients made shrouds of asbestos,
wherein they burned the bodies of their kings, in order to preserve
only their ashes, and prevent them being mixed with those of wood or
other combustible materials commonly used in funeral pyres.
Others assert that the ancients used asbestos to make perpetual wicks
for sepulchral or other lamps. A famous example is the golden lamp
asbestos lychnis, which the sculptor Callimachus made for the
Erechtheion. In more recent centuries, asbestos was indeed used
for this purpose. Although asbestos causes skin to itch upon contact,
ancient literature indicates that it was prescribed for diseases of
the skin, and particularly for the itch. It is possible that they used
the term asbestos for soapstone, because the two terms have often been
confused throughout history.[page needed]
Industrial scale asbestos mining began in 1878 in Thetford township,
Quebec. By 1895, mining was increasingly mechanized.
The large scale asbestos industry began in the mid-19th century. Early
attempts at producing asbestos paper and cloth in Italy began in the
1850s, but were unsuccessful in creating a market for such products.
Canadian samples of asbestos were displayed in
London in 1862, and the
first companies were formed in
England and Scotland to exploit this
Asbestos was first used in the manufacture of yarn, and
German industrialist Louis Wertheim adopted this process in his
factories in Germany.  In 1871, the Patent
Company was established in Glasgow, and within the following decades,
Clydebank area became a centre for the nascent industry.
Canada's biggest power shovel loading an ore train with asbestos at
the Jeffrey Mine, Johns-Manville Co., Asbestos, Quebec, June 1944.
Industrial scale mining began in the Thetford hills,
Quebec from the
William Edmond Logan
William Edmond Logan was the first to notice the large
deposits of chrysotile in the hills in his capacity as head of
Geological Survey of Canada. Samples of the minerals from here were
displayed in London, and excited much interest. With the opening
up of the
Quebec Central Railway in 1876, mining entrepreneurs, such
Andrew Stuart Johnson established the asbestos industry in the
province. The 50 ton output of the mines in 1878 rose to over
10,000 tons in the 1890s with the adoption of machine technologies and
expanded production. For a long time, the world's largest
asbestos mine was the Jeffrey mine in the town of Asbestos,
The applications of asbestos multiplied at the end of the 19th
century. This is an advertisement for an asbestos-lined clothes iron
Asbestos production began in the
Urals of the
Russian Empire in the
1880s, and in the Alpine regions of
Northern Italy with the formation
Turin of the Italo-English Pure
Asbestos Company in 1876, although
this was soon swamped by the greater production levels from the
Canadian mines. Mining also took off in
South Africa from 1893 under
the aegis of the British businessman Francis Oates, the Director of
De Beers company. It was in
South Africa that the production
of amosite began in 1910. The U.S. asbestos industry had an early
start in 1858, when fibrous anthophyllite was mined for use as
asbestos insulation by the Johns Company, a predecessor to the current
Johns Manville, at a quarry at Ward's Hill on Staten Island, New
York. US production began in earnest in 1899, with the discovery
of large deposits in the Belvidere Mountain.
The use of asbestos became increasingly widespread towards the end of
the 19th century, when its diverse applications included fire
retardant coatings, concrete, bricks, pipes and fireplace cement,
heat, fire, and acid resistant gaskets, pipe insulation, ceiling
insulation, fireproof drywall, flooring, roofing, lawn furniture, and
drywall joint compound. In 2011 it was reported that over 50% of UK
houses still contained asbestos, despite a ban on asbestos products
some years earlier.
In Japan, particularly after World War II, asbestos was used in the
manufacture of ammonium sulfate for purposes of rice production,
sprayed upon the ceilings, iron skeletons, and walls of railroad cars
and buildings (during the 1960s), and used for energy efficiency
reasons as well. Production of asbestos in Japan peaked in 1974 and
went through ups and downs until about 1990, when production began to
Discovery of toxicity
For additional chronological citations, see also, List of asbestos
disease medical articles
In 1899, Dr. Montague Murray noted the negative health effects of
asbestos. The first documented death related to asbestos was in
In the early 1900s researchers began to notice a large number of early
deaths and lung problems in asbestos-mining towns. The first such
study was conducted by Dr. H. Montague Murray at the Charing Cross
Hospital, London, in 1900, in which a postmortem investigation of a
young man who had died from pulmonary fibrosis after having worked for
14 years in an asbestos textile factory, discovered asbestos traces in
the victim's lungs. Adelaide Anderson, the Inspector of Factories in
Britain, included asbestos in a list of harmful industrial substances
in 1902. Similar investigations were conducted in France and Italy, in
1906 and 1908, respectively.
The first diagnosis of asbestosis was made in the UK in
Nellie Kershaw was employed at Turner Brothers
Asbestos in Manchester,
England from 1917, spinning raw asbestos fibre
into yarn. Her death in 1924 led to a formal inquest.
Pathologist Dr William Edmund Cooke testified that his examination of
the lungs indicated old scarring indicative of a previous, healed,
tuberculosis infection, and extensive fibrosis, in which were visible
"particles of mineral matter ... of various shapes, but the large
majority have sharp angles." Having compared these particles with
samples of asbestos dust provided by Dr S.A. Henry, His Majesty's
Medical Inspector of Factories, Cooke concluded that they "originated
from asbestos and were, beyond a reasonable doubt, the primary cause
of the fibrosis of the lungs and therefore of death".
As a result of Cooke's paper, parliament commissioned an inquiry into
the effects of asbestos dust by Dr E. R. A. Merewether, Medical
Inspector of Factories, and C. W. Price, a factory inspector and
pioneer of dust monitoring and control. Their subsequent report,
Occurrence of Pulmonary
Fibrosis & Other Pulmonary Affections in
Asbestos Workers, was presented to parliament on 24 March 1930. It
concluded that the development of asbestosis was irrefutably linked to
the prolonged inhalation of asbestos dust, and included the first
health study of asbestos workers, which found that 66% of those
employed for 20 years or more suffered from asbestosis. The report
led to the publication of the first
Asbestos Industry Regulations in
1931, which came into effect on 1 March 1932. These regulated
ventilation and made asbestosis an excusable work-related disease.
The term mesothelioma was first used in medical literature in 1931;
its association with asbestos was first noted sometime in the 1940s.
Similar legislation followed in the U.S. about ten years later.
Approximately 100,000 people in the United States have died, or are
terminally ill, from asbestos exposure related to ship building. In
Hampton Roads area, a shipbuilding center, mesothelioma occurrence
is seven times the national rate. Thousands of tons of asbestos
were used in
World War II
World War II ships to insulate piping, boilers, steam
engines, and steam turbines. There were approximately 4.3 million
shipyard workers in the United States during WWII; for every 1,000
workers about 14 died of mesothelioma and an unknown number died from
The United States government and asbestos industry have been
criticized for not acting quickly enough to inform the public of
dangers, and to reduce public exposure. In the late 1970s, court
documents proved that asbestos industry officials knew of asbestos
dangers since the 1930s and had concealed them from the public.
In Australia, asbestos was widely used in construction and other
industries between 1946 and 1980. From the 1970s there was increasing
concern about the dangers of asbestos, and its use was phased out.
Mining ceased in 1983. The use of asbestos was phased out in 1989 and
banned entirely in December 2003. The dangers of asbestos are now well
known in Australia and there is help and support for sufferers from
asbestosis or mesothelioma.
Usage by industry and product type
Serpentine minerals have a sheet or layered structure.
the only asbestos mineral in the serpentine group. In the United
States, chrysotile has been the most commonly used type of asbestos.
According to the U.S. EPA
Asbestos Building Inspectors Manual,
chrysotile accounts for approximately 95% of asbestos found in
buildings in the United States.
Chrysotile is often
present in a wide variety of products and materials, including:
Chlor Alkali diaphragm membranes used to make chlorine (currently in
the USA) 
Drywall and joint compound
Gas mask filters pre-1960s and gas mask filters from the USSR
Mud and texture coats
Vinyl floor tiles, sheeting, adhesives
Roofing tars, felts, siding, and shingles
"Transite" panels, siding, countertops, and pipes
Popcorn ceilings, also known as acoustic ceilings
An asbestos glove
Industrial and marine gaskets
Brake pads and shoes
Interior fire doors
Fireproof clothing for firefighters
Thermal pipe insulation
Filters for removing fine particulates from chemicals, liquids and
Dental cast linings
HVAC flexible duct connectors
Drilling fluid additives
A household heat spreader for cooking on gas stoves, made of asbestos
(probably 1950s; "Amiante pur" is French for "Pure Asbestos")
In the European Union and Australia it has recently been banned as a
potential health hazard and is not used at all. Japan is moving in
the same direction, but at a slower pace.
Amphiboles including amosite (brown asbestos) and crocidolite (blue
asbestos) were formerly used in many products until the early
Tremolite asbestos constituted a contaminant
of many if not all naturally occurring chrysotile deposits. The use of
all types of asbestos in the amphibole group was banned in much of the
Western world by the mid-1980s, and in Japan by 1995.
Some products that included amphibole types of asbestos included the
Low density insulating board (often referred to as AIB or asbestos
insulating board) and ceiling tiles;
Asbestos-cement pipe (made until the early 1990s by at least one
Asbestos-cement sheets and pipes for construction, casing for water
and electrical/telecommunication services;
Thermal and chemical insulation (e.g., fire rated doors, limpet spray,
lagging and gaskets).
Lorillard (Kent's filtered cigarette) used
crocidolite asbestos in its "Micronite" filter from 1952 to 1956.
While mostly chrysotile asbestos fibers were once used in automobile
brake pads, shoes, and clutch discs, contaminants of amphiboles were
present. Since approximately the mid-1990s, brake pads, new or
replacement, have been manufactured instead with linings made of
ceramic, carbon, metallic and aramid fiber (
Twaron or Kevlar—the
same material used in bulletproof vests).
Artificial Christmas snow, known as flocking, was previously made with
asbestos. It was used as an effect in films including The Wizard
of Oz and department store window displays and it was marketed for use
in private homes under brand names that included "Pure White", "Snow
Drift" and "White Magic".
Older decorative ceilings, similar to this one, may contain small
amounts of white asbestos.
1929 newspaper advertisement from Perth, Western Australia, for
asbestos sheeting for residential building construction.
The use of asbestos in new construction projects has been banned for
health and safety reasons in many developed countries or regions,
including the European Union, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and New
Zealand. A notable exception is the United States, where asbestos
continues to be used in construction such as cement asbestos pipes.
The 5th Circuit Court prevented the EPA from banning asbestos in 1991
because EPA research showed the ban would cost between $450 and 800
million while only saving around 200 lives in a 13-year timeframe, and
that the EPA did not provide adequate evidence for the safety of
alternative products. Until the mid-1980s, small amounts of white
asbestos were used in the manufacture of Artex, a decorative stipple
finish, however, some of the lesser-known suppliers of
still adding white asbestos until 1999.
Prior to the ban, asbestos was widely used in the construction
industry in thousands of materials. Some are judged to be more
dangerous than others due to the amount of asbestos and the material's
friable nature. Sprayed coatings, pipe insulation and Asbestos
Insulating Board (AIB) are thought to be the most dangerous due to
their high content of asbestos and friable nature. Many older
buildings built before the late 1990s contain asbestos. In the United
States, there is a minimum standard for asbestos surveys as described
ASTM Standard E 2356–04. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
includes some but not all asbestos-contaminated facilities on the
Superfund National Priorities list (NPL). Renovation and demolition of
asbestos-contaminated buildings is subject to EPA
NESHAP and OSHA
Asbestos is not a material covered under CERCLA's
innocent purchaser defense. In the UK, the removal and disposal of
asbestos and of substances containing it are covered by the Control of
Asbestos Regulations 2006.
U.S. asbestos consumption hit a peak of 804,000 tons in 1973; world
asbestos demand peaked around 1977, with 25 countries producing nearly
4.8 million metric tons annually.
In older buildings (e.g. those built prior to 1999 in the UK, before
white asbestos was banned), asbestos may still be present in some
areas. Being aware of asbestos locations reduces the risk of
Removal of asbestos building components can also remove the fire
protection they provide, therefore fire protection substitutes are
required for proper fire protection that the asbestos originally
Outside Europe and North America
Some countries, such as India, Indonesia, China, Russia and Brazil,
have continued widespread use of asbestos. The most common is
corrugated asbestos-cement sheets or "A/C sheets" for roofing and for
side walls. Millions of homes, factories, schools or sheds and
shelters continue to use asbestos. Cutting these sheets to size and
drilling holes to receive 'J' bolts to help secure the sheets to roof
framing is done on-site. There has been no significant change in
production and use of A/C sheets in developing countries following the
widespread restrictions in developed nations. "The
largest exporter of asbestos is Russia, which exported 100 million
metric tonnes of asbestos.This asbestos is shipped to the nations that
still use this cheap and effective building material. China is the
number one importer of asbestos, using over five-hundred seventy
metric tonnes of the dangerous substance in 2013 alone. China is not
the only country that uses asbestos, Russia, Canada,
Brazil and India
all use asbestos."
11 September 2001 attacks
See also: Health effects arising from the September 11 attacks
As New York City's World Trade Center collapsed following the
September 11 attacks,
Lower Manhattan was blanketed in a mixture of
building debris and combustible materials. This complex mixture gave
rise to the concern that thousands of residents and workers in the
area would be exposed to known hazards in the air and in the dust,
such as asbestos, lead, glass fibers, and pulverized concrete.
More than 1,000 tons of asbestos are thought to have been released
into the air following the buildings' destruction.
Inhalation of a
mixture of asbestos and other toxicants is thought to be linked to the
unusually high death rate from cancer of emergency service workers
since the disaster. Thousands more are now thought to be at risk
of developing cancer due to this exposure with those who have died so
far being only the 'tip of the iceberg'. Some commentators have
criticised authorities for using asbestos in the buildings'
In May 2002, after numerous cleanup, dust collection, and air
monitoring activities were conducted outdoors by EPA, other federal
New York City
New York City and the state of New York, New York City
formally requested federal assistance to clean and/or test residences
in the vicinity of the World Trade Center site for airborne
Asbestos contaminants in other products
Vermiculite is a hydrated laminar magnesium-aluminum-iron silicate
which resembles mica. It can be used for many industrial applications
and has been used as insulation. Some deposits of vermiculite have
been found to be contaminated with small amounts of asbestos.
One vermiculite mine operated by
W. R. Grace and Company
W. R. Grace and Company in Libby,
Montana exposed workers and community residents to danger by mining
vermiculite contaminated with asbestos, typically richterite,
winchite, actinolite or tremolite.
Vermiculite contaminated with
asbestos from the Libby mine was used as insulation in residential and
commercial buildings through Canada and the United States. W. R. Grace
and Company's loose-fill vermiculite was marketed as
Zonolite but was
also used in sprayed-on products such as Monokote.
In 1999 the EPA began cleanup efforts in Libby and now the area is a
Superfund cleanup area. The EPA has determined that harmful
asbestos is released from the mine as well as through other activities
that disturb soil in the area.
A laboratory heat spreader made of asbestos, on tripod over a Teclu
Talc can sometimes be contaminated with asbestos due to the proximity
of asbestos ore (usually tremolite) in underground talc deposits.
By 1973, US federal law required all talc products to be
asbestos-free, and today there is strict quality control in the
production of talc products, separating cosmetic-grade talc (e.g.
talcum powder) from industrial-grade talc (often used in friction
products) has largely eliminated this issue for consumers.
In 2000, tests in a certified asbestos-testing laboratory found the
tremolite form of amphibole asbestos in three out of eight bigger
brands of children's crayons that are made partly from talc: Crayola,
Prang, and RoseArt. In
Crayola crayons, the tests found asbestos
levels from 0.05% in Carnation Pink to 2.86% in Orchid; in Prang
crayons, the range was from 0.3% in Periwinkle to 0.54% in Yellow; in
Rose Art crayons, it was from 0.03% in Brown to 1.20% in Orange.
Overall, 32 different types of crayons from these brands contained
more than trace amounts of asbestos, and eight others contained trace
amounts. The Art and Creative Materials Institute, a trade association
which tests the safety of crayons on behalf of the makers, initially
insisted the test results must be incorrect, although they later said
they do not test for asbestos. In May 2000,
Crayola said tests by
Richard Lee, a materials analyst whose testimony on behalf of the
asbestos industry has been accepted in lawsuits over 250 times, found
two of its crayons tested negative for asbestos. In June 2000,
Binney & Smith, the maker of Crayola, and the other makers agreed
to stop using talc in their products, and changed their product
formulations in the United States.
The mining company, R T Vanderbilt Co of Gouverneur, New York, which
supplied the talc to the crayon makers, states that "to the best of
our knowledge and belief" there is no asbestos in its talc.
However media reports claim that the United States Mine Safety and
Health Administration (MSHA) had found asbestos in four talc samples
tested in 2000. The Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health
subsequently wrote to the news reporter, stating that "In fact, the
abbreviation ND (non detect) in the laboratory report – indicates no
asbestos fibers actually were found in the samples", and multiple
studies by both mineral studies
laboratories and biological cell
studies do not report asbestos. These findings have been
rejected by other health reports and studies which advocate a "same
as" asbestos risk.
Main article: Health impact of asbestos
Asbestos warning label.
Left-sided mesothelioma (seen on the right of the picture): chest CT
All types of asbestos fibers are known to cause serious health hazards
Amosite and crocidolite are considered the most
hazardous asbestos fiber types; however, chrysotile
asbestos has also produced tumors in animals and is a recognized cause
of asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma in humans, and
mesothelioma has been observed in people who were occupationally
exposed to chrysotile, family members of the occupationally exposed,
and residents who lived close to asbestos factories and mines.
During the 1980s and again in the 1990s it was suggested at times that
the process of making asbestos cement could "neutralize" the asbestos,
either via chemical processes or by causing cement to attach to the
fibers and changing their physical size; subsequent studies showed
that this was untrue, and that decades-old asbestos cement, when
broken, releases asbestos fibers identical to those found in nature,
with no detectable alteration.
Exposure to asbestos in the form of fibers is always considered
dangerous. Working with, or exposure to, material that is friable, or
materials or works that could cause release of loose asbestos fibers,
is considered high risk. However, in general, people who become ill
from inhaling asbestos have been regularly exposed in a job where they
worked directly with the material.
The most common diseases associated with chronic exposure to asbestos
are asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Substitutes for asbestos in construction
Fiberglass insulation was invented in 1938 and is now the most
commonly used type of insulation material. The safety of this material
has also been called into question due to similarities in material
structure. However, the International Agency for Research on
Cancer removed fiberglass from its list of possible human carcinogens
in 2001 and a scientific review article from 2011 claimed
epidemiology data was inconsistent and concluded that the IARC's
decision to downgrade the carcinogenic potential of fiberglass was
valid (however, this study was funded by sponsored research contract
from the North American Insulation Manufacturer’s Association).
In 1978, a highly texturized fiberglass fabric was invented by Bal
Dixit, called Zetex. This fabric is lighter than asbestos, but offers
the same bulk, thickness, hand, feel, and abrasion resistance as
asbestos. The fiberglass was texturized to eliminate some of the
problems that arise with fiberglass, such as poor abrasion resistance
and poor seam strength.
In Europe, mineral wool and glass wool are the main insulators in
Many companies that produced asbestos-cement products that were
reinforced with asbestos fibers have developed products incorporating
organic fibers. One such product was known as "Eternit" and another
"Everite" now use "Nutec" fibers which consist of organic fibers,
portland cement and silica.
Cement-bonded wood fiber is another
substitute. Stone fibers are used in gaskets and friction materials.
Another potential fiber is polybenzimidazole or PBI fiber.
Polybenzimidazole fiber is a synthetic fiber with a high melting point
of 760 °C (1,400 °F) that also does not ignite. Because of
its exceptional thermal and chemical stability, it is often used by
fire departments and space agencies.
Recycling and disposal
Wailuku Post Office sealed off for asbestos removal
Asbestos alternatives for industrial use include sleeves, rope, tape,
fabric, textiles and insulation batt materials made from fiberglass
In most developed countries, asbestos is typically disposed of as
hazardous waste in landfill sites.
The demolition of buildings containing large amounts of asbestos based
materials pose particular problems for builders and property
developers – such buildings often have to be deconstructed piece by
piece, or the asbestos has to be painstakingly removed before the
structure can be razed by mechanical or explosive means. One such
example is the
Red Road Flats
Red Road Flats in Glasgow, Scotland which used huge
amounts of asbestos cement board for wall panelling – here British
health and safety regulations stipulate that asbestos material has to
be removed to a landfill site via an approved route at certain times
of the day in specially adapted vehicles.
Asbestos can be recycled by transforming it into harmless silicate
glass. A process of thermal decomposition at 1000–1250 °C
produces a mixture of non-hazardous silicate phases, and at
temperatures above 1250 °C it produces silicate glass.
Microwave thermal treatment can be used in an industrial manufacturing
process to transform asbestos and asbestos-containing waste into
porcelain stoneware tiles, porous single-fired wall tiles, and ceramic
The combination of oxalic acid with ultrasound fully degrades
chrysotile asbestos fibers.
List of minerals
Asbestos and the law
Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization
Red List building materials
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