Asbestos Background Information

Key Points

Asbestos is the name given to a group of minerals that occur naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers.



Exposure to asbestos may increase the risk of asbestosis, other nonmalignant lung and pleural disorders, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other cancers.



Smokers who are also exposed to asbestos have a greatly increased risk of lung cancer.



Individuals who have been exposed (or suspect they have been exposed) to asbestos on the job, through the environment, or at home through a family contact should inform their physician and report any symptoms.

Government agencies can provide additional information on asbestos exposure.

 

What is Asbestos?


Asbestos is the name given to a group of minerals that occur naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers that can be separated into thin, durable threads. These fibers are resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals and do not conduct electricity. For these reasons, asbestos has been used widely in many industries.



Chemically, asbestos minerals are silicate compounds, meaning they contain atoms of silicon and oxygen in their molecular structure.



Asbestos minerals are divided into two major groups: Serpentine asbestos and amphibole asbestos. Serpentine asbestos includes the mineral chrysotile, which has long, curly fibers that can be woven. Chrysotile asbestos is the form that has been used most widely in commercial applications. Amphibole asbestos includes the minerals actinolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, crocidolite, and amosite. Amphibole asbestos has straight, needle-like fibers that are more brittle than those of serpentine asbestos and are more limited in their ability to be fabricated.

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