Although asbestos is a commonly known household name that is associated with being bad, how many people know exactly what it is and how it affects their health?
On a daily basis our experts talk to clients and answer every question they have about asbestos making sure they understand exactly what risks are involved when living or working around asbestos containing materials. We believe that if people are as informed as possible they can make smart and safe decisions regarding their health as well as the health of others. We have developed a list of commonly asked questions and provided in depth answers that should remedy any concern you may have. If there is anything that we have not covered here you are also in luck because we have a simple form that you can fill out that goes directly to one of our experts. They are ready, willing, and happy to answer any questions you may have. You don’t have to spend hours online searching for an answer that does not completely cover your concerns because we are here to make it easy and ensure that you are aware of the hazards that surround you.
Asbestos is a natural mineral that has been mined for over 4,000 years. It is a thin fibrous crystal that has amazing properties which allow it to resist high temperatures, resist corrosion, and maintain extreme durability. We know it today as a carcinogen, but not only fifty years ago was it referred to as the “miracle fiber.” The word “asbestos” is Greek, meaning “inextinguishable" or "indestructible." Asbestos has also gone by different nick-names such as "incombustible linen," "mountain leather," and "rock floss."
Some health hazards of asbestos include lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, gastrointestinal cancer, kidney cancer, brain cancer, bladder cancer, laryngeal cancer, and colorectal cancer. There are many other effects that can be connected with exposure to asbestos. Some factors that would raise the risk of negative health effects from exposure to asbestos are the concentration of asbestos fibers in the material, the length of time spent around the substance, the frequency of being exposed, and the physical qualities of the particular form of asbestos.
There are six naturally occurring silicate minerals that fall into the asbestos category. They are chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite. Even though these minerals have minor differences like color and growth pattern, they all pose the same health hazards.
Chrysotile is the most common form of asbestos that we encounter here at Southern Global. About 95% of the samples we take are chrysotile asbestos. It is also called white asbestos and gets its name from the Greek words “chrysos” and “tilos” meaning gold fiber. It has a unique feature compared to the other forms of asbestos. It has a serpentine fiber-formation (curled fibers) and is also stronger and less likely to be inhaled making it the safest form of asbestos. Don’t feel at ease when we use the term “safest” because it is only relatively safer than the other asbestos fibers. It still poses a great concern to you and your family’s health.
Amosite asbestos makes up for about 4% of the samples we take and are mostly found in floor tile and pipe insulation. Amosite is also known as “grunerite”, “brown asbestos”, or “gray asbestos.” It is an amphibole originating from South Africa and is the second most commonly found asbestos fiber found in the United States. Amosite has very straight, needle like fibers and it is also very easy to tear apart making it one of the most hazardous fibers second to crocidolite asbestos. Its production has been banned in the United States and most countries but is still found in a lot of older products and materials.
Crocidolite asbestos, or blue asbestos, makes up for less than 1% of the samples we have encountered in the past. It is viewed as the most dangerous form of asbestos and, like amosite, the fibers are long, sharp, and can easily break apart. As an example: imagine snapping a cracker into two pieces and watching the crumbs fall to the ground, if you were to snap crocidolite into two pieces instead of the fibers breaking off and falling to the ground the tiny little fibers would float into the air becoming very easy to inhale. Now imagine that the fibers are so small that you wouldn’t be able to see them or feel them as you were breathing them in.
Tremolite asbestos, actinolite asbestos, and anthophyllite asbestos have very similar properties and together make up less than .05% of the samples we have come across in the past. They are not generally used in industrial or commercial applications. They are more common in products such as talcum powder but in limited amounts. They can also be found in certain vermiculites which is a mineral that is used as an attic insulation (mostly in the northern states), as packing, and used as an aerator for soil. Because these forms of asbestos are naturally found in vermiculites, it is advisable to treat vermiculites just as hazardous as asbestos.
Asbestos has been used for many different purposes over the years. The Egyptians used it to wrap the Pharaoh’s in the mummification process. The Romans mixed it in clay to add durability to pottery. During medieval times asbestos cloth was used as a liner for suits of armor. As the 19th century was about to turn it became a very widely used material as a result of the industrial revolution. Asbestos is very strong and very cheap which made it a very strong candidate material for most products. It wasn’t until the 1970’s the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would start to place regulations on asbestos and asbestos containing materials. Asbestos is still used in some products today such as sheetrock joint compound, roofing products, floor coverings, adhesives, and mastics.
Even though there are regulations guiding the use and handling of asbestos containing materials, it would surprise most that asbestos has only been banned in the following items:
Here is a list of countries that produce the most asbestos in the world per year today: