Asbestos is a naturally-occurring and mined mineral that is highly heat-resistant and can take on virtually any shape or form. Before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned its use in commercial construction and limited its use in other areas, asbestos was utilized in various industry sectors and for a multitude of purposes. Inhalation of asbestos fibers has been linked the formation of several diseases, including several types of cancers.
Types of Asbestos
There are actually several types of asbestos and associated fibers available. The two main categories of asbestos include Serpentine and Amphibole. But within these two categories are further asbestos-related minerals. Chrysotile, or white asbestos, falls under the serpentine class of asbestos minerals and is the most flexible type of asbestos. Mined from the chrysotile rock, this type of asbestos is curly and can often be found as flat sheets typically used for floors and ceilings. Amphibole, on the other hand, can be broken down into anthophyllite, actinolite, tremolite and crocidolite and is characterized either brown or blue asbestos. This is the most fire-retardant type of asbestos available.
In the early part of the 20th century, asbestos was widely used because of its versatile properties and its ability to withstand high temperatures and toxic chemicals. The fact that it could be shaped and formed into virtually anything made it a highly sought-after commodity in various industry sectors. The ship building industry used it in the building and repairing of ships. Asbestos could be found in the pipes, boilers and electrical wiring, among other areas of the ships. The mineral was used as an insulator on pipes and boilers for the fire and extreme temperatures that ships sometimes experience.
The construction industry and power plant industry also used asbestos in several areas of their business. The ceilings, floors, pipes and electrical wiring were all insulated with asbestos and even though the EPA banned its use in new construction in the 1970s, older buildings still contain asbestos. Power plants used asbestos to protect the same types of equipment, but they also had their personnel, as did the ship building industry, wear clothing lined with asbestos.
There is friable and non-friable asbestos available. No matter the type of asbestos used, it has been determined that any exposure to the mineral, no matter how small, is deadly. Asbestos becomes friable when it is disturbed. So if a building or ship needed repairs or needed to be remodeled, the asbestos-containing materials would likely be disturbed, releasing tiny, sharp fibers into the air. Those fibers were then inhaled by workers. They also stuck to the hair and clothing of workers, allowing their family members to be exposed as well.
Exposure to asbestos fibers has been linked to several diseases including mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer. Symptoms for mesothelioma don't surface for decades, so if you think you have been exposed, it's important you see your physician immediately. Early diagnosis can provide the proper treatment.