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What is asbestos?

The word “asbestos” is the term for six types of naturally occurring minerals: chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite. Their physical properties can be useful for several reasons: the minerals are resistant to heat, electrical, and chemical damage, and provide excellent sound absorption and tensile strength. Unfortunately, asbestos is also toxic.

Chrysotile (more commonly referred to as “white” asbestos) Amosite (more commonly referred to as “brown” asbestos and sometimes “gray” asbestos) Crocidolite (more commonly referred to as “blue” asbestos)
Tremolite Anthophyllite Actinolite

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What was asbestos used for?

The unique properties of asbestos make it hazardous. Asbestos fibers break into tiny particles that become deeply embedded in human tissue when breathed. When you see visible asbestos in the air, the number of the tiniest and most dangerous fibers is in the millions. Asbestos dust floats longer than other dusts. Asbestos has unique aerodynamic properties: the mineral frays into tiny microscopic rectangles, and they float in the air like little balsa airplanes.

Asbestos was most often used in building construction and shipbuilding. Concrete, bricks, pipes, cement, gaskets, insulation, flooring, roofing, drywall, and joint compound at one time all used asbestos as one of their components. Formerly, this potentially deadly material was also manufactured into automobile brake pads, shoes, and clutch discs.

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Is asbestos banned?

Asbestos use was banned by the European Union as of January 1st, 2005. Most developed countries also follow these guidelines, with the exception of the United States, Russia, Canada and Brazil. In 1991 it was ruled that trace amounts of asbestos can still be legally used in various consumer products. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), limit the amount of asbestos use in certain areas, these agencies have never entirely banned asbestos from coming into contact with the American public.

Unfortunately, asbestos is still widely used in third-world countries, with little or no protection for workers or consumers.

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