What is Asbestos?

“Asbestos” is the name given to a group of minerals that occur naturally as bundles of fibers which can be separated into thin threads. These fibers are not affected by heat or chemicals and do not conduct electricity. For these reasons, asbestos has been widely used in many industries. Four types of asbestos have been used commercially:

  • Chrysotile, or white asbestos;
  • Crocidolite, or blue asbestos;
  • Amosite, which usually has brown fibers; and
  • Anthophyllite, which usually has gray fibers.

Chrysotile asbestos, with its curly fibers, is in the serpentine family of minerals. The other types of asbestos, which all have rod-like fibers, are known as amphiboles.

Asbestos fiber masses tend to break easily into a dust composed of tiny particles that can float in the air and stick to clothes. The fibers may be easily inhaled or swallowed and can cause serious health problems.

Asbestosis is a serious, chronic, non-cancerous respiratory disease. Like all cancers it has remedies to some extent. Inhaled asbestos fibers aggravate lung tissues, which causes them to scar. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath and a dry crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling. In its advanced stages, the asbestos disease may cause cardiac failure.

There is no effective treatment for asbestosis; the disease is usually disabling or fatal. The risk of asbestosis is minimal for those who do not work with asbestos; the disease is rarely caused by neighborhood or family exposure. Those who renovate or demolish buildings that contain asbestos may be at significant risk, depending on the nature of the exposure and precautions taken.

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Sources of National Cancer Institute Information

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