Asbestos - Mineral, Friend or Foe?

Essay by fidaulalamUniversity, Bachelor'sB-, March 2007

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Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral which are abundantly found in metamorphic rocks. It is similar to other minerals in all ways except one: its crystal development. There are two main types of asbestos: amphibole and serpentine. Asbestos, being a versatile mineral, can be found in numerous places throughout the home because of its thermal insulation, fire protection, and strengthening of other materials. The controversy with it concerns fibres and products that were used in the past, often improperly causing them to be prohibited today. In this day, many of the manufactured products we use contain asbestos. Plastic, tiles, and cement to name just a few. Since the fibres are easily carried throughout the air, they can be readily inhaled. For this reason, asbestos also poses a risk to humans because it can cause many forms of disease. Specifically speaking, asbestosis and mesothelioma arise due to exposure to asbestos.

Primarily, “asbestos” is a term that is used to describe fibrous minerals that are of the amphibole and serpentine mineral group.

The three minerals included in the “amphibole asbestos” group are crocidolite, amosite, and actinolite. The “serpentine asbestos” group, however, only has a single principal mineral called chrysotile. Specifically speaking, fibers ultimately form because when minerals originally cooled and crystallized, they formed the polymeric molecule lining up parallel with each other and also forming oriented crystal lattices. However, the amphibole asbestos differs in crystal structure (i.e. structure of fibres) from serpentine asbestos. The amphibole asbestos have long, silky to splintery fibres with appreciable tensile strength. Whereas, the serpentine asbestos have layers with a cylindrical structure which are either concentrically or spirally rolled to produce fibre commonly ranging from 15 to 30 nanometers in diameter, and micrometers to centimeters in length. These fibres have great strength and flexibility. Chrysotile is...