What is Asbestos?

As defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been widely used in many products, especially building construction materials. Asbestos has also been used in heat-producing or heat-sustaining products as a fire-retardant.

What is Asbestos: Types of Asbestos

The question, “What is asbestos?” can’t be answered without addressing its dangers. Indeed, even the early history of asbestos touches on its hazards to humans. The danger of asbestos lies in its tiny, inhalable fibers. When asbestos-containing materials are disturbed by repair, remodeling or demolition activities, the fibers go airborne and can be inhaled into the lungs, where they lodge and eventually lead to serious illnesses.

What is asbestos in its most dangerous form? Microscopic, airborne fibers. There are six types of asbestos. They are divided into two groups – serpentine and amphibole.

  • Serpentine – Only one type of asbestos falls in this category and it is chrysotile, or white asbestos. It’s categorized separately due to the curled structure of the fibers. This is the most commonly used type in the U.S. and the only one still mined on a large scale.
  • Amphibole – The other types of asbestos fall into this category and they are amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite. These asbestos fibers are straight and short and easier to inhale in large quantity. Crocidolite, or blue asbestos, is the second most commonly used type of asbestos in the U.S.

What is Asbestos: Health Risks

Continued asbestos exposure over time causes a buildup of the fibers in the lungs. These stay embedded in lung tissue and lead to serious diseases and cancers.

The top three serious asbestos-related diseases are:

  • Asbestosis – A progressive, non-cancerous lung disease caused by scar tissue from inhaled asbestos fiber irritation. The scarring prevents oxygen from nourishing the blood in the body.
  • Lung Cancer – This cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure.
  • Mesothelioma – A rare cancer found in the thin lining of the lung, chest, abdomen, or heart. A mesothelioma diagnosis usually is made decades after asbestos Exposure. Learn more here