Types of Asbestos and Mesothelioma Risk
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All types of asbestos are dangerous, but some forms carry more mesothelioma risk, including crocidolite. Medical experts only discovered asbestos’s association with the aggressive, rare cancer known as mesothelioma many years after it gained global popularity as an insulating material.
About Asbestos Types
Asbestos is not a single product or material. It is a group of minerals that comes in several forms. Asbestos is more of a legal and commercial term than a scientific one. What the various forms have in common is that they are natural geological formations with fibrous structures.
The number of types of asbestos there are depends on the organization describing them. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognizes six types of asbestos.
The various forms of asbestos can be organized into two main families:
- Amphibole asbestos forms have sharp, chain-like mineral structures. The fibers are easily inhaled. Included in this family are amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite.
- Serpentine asbestos fibers are curly and form sheets of crystal structure. Chrysotile, the most commonly used type of asbestos, is serpentine.
What Type of Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma?
Some types of asbestos are more harmful than others, but all have been associated with an increased risk of mesothelioma. All asbestos is composed of fibers known to cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, pleural plaques, and other respiratory issues.
Does All Asbestos Exposure Cause Mesothelioma?
While there is a strong connection between asbestos and these illnesses, not all exposure leads to disease. Asbestosis, lung cancer, and other illnesses are far more common than mesothelioma, even among asbestos-exposed individuals.
Which Type of Asbestos Is Most Dangerous?
Crocidolite, or blue asbestos, is the most harmful type of asbestos to human health. Amosite, or brown asbestos, is also extremely hazardous. While all types of asbestos can cause mesothelioma, brown and blue asbestos may do so at lower levels of exposure.
- Chrysotile asbestos is the only member of the serpentine family of asbestos minerals. Chrysotile is the most commonly used type of asbestos in numerous applications, but especially in construction products.
- Chrysotile, like other types of asbestos, is associated with mesothelioma with exposure. However, it is not as dangerous as other types.
- Most modern materials containing chrysotile asbestos are non-friable. This means they do not come loose easily.
- Also, the fibers of other types of asbestos stay in the body longer, increasing the risk of damage and illness.
- Natural deposits of chrysotile often contain traces of amphibole asbestos types, which can make it more harmful.
- Some of the many products made with chrysotile asbestos include insulation, gaskets, brake pads, cement, drywall, fireproofing materials, vinyl flooring, and roofing materials.
- The U.S. and Canada once mined most of the world’s chrysotile asbestos.
- Amosite asbestos is also known as brown asbestos. It is a type of amphibole mineral.
- Most amosite asbestos comes from mines in South Africa.
- Amosite asbestos is the second most commonly used type after chrysotile. Past asbestos construction materials typically donated about 5% amosite.
- Amosite asbestos is very hazardous if inhaled or ingested.
- People who live in older homes should take caution if their pipe insulation or cement flooring show signs of deterioration. Deterioration of asbestos-reinforced cement allows the carcinogenic fibers to become airborne, where anyone can inhale them.
- Amosite was used to reinforce cement sheets, such as for pipe or floor insulation. It was also used in insulation, roofing materials, vinyl flooring, fireproofing, gaskets, and many other products.
- Anthophyllite is a rare type of asbestos that is yellowish-gold in color.
- It was once mined in Finland.
- Although not specifically used in construction materials, some cement or insulation might have trace amounts of anthophyllite.
- Seldom used in industrial applications, anthophyllite is commonly found alongside talc deposits.
- People who work in talc mines are at an increased risk of exposure and have a moderate-to-severe risk of developing mesothelioma.
- Because this form of asbestos gets mixed up with talc, talcum powder products were thought to be carcinogenic for some time. It was the asbestos that was the actual culprit, however.
- Actinolite asbestos has a greenish hue and is darker than other types of asbestos.
- Never specifically used in industrial applications, actinolite was often accidentally mined alongside naturally occurring talc deposits.
- Actinolite is also sometimes in and around vermiculite deposits. Vermiculite is a popular potting soil additive. Accidental exposure to it has occurred but is no longer common.
- Strict enforcement of vermiculite processing regulations later may have reduced the risk of exposure. Actinolite exposure does carry a risk of mesothelioma.
- Traces of actinolite can also be found in drywall, insulation, and cement.
- Whitish-to-green in color, tremolite can be found in deposits along with talc and vermiculite, as well as chrysotile asbestos.
- This led to accidental exposure for miners and people working at processing plants for any of these other materials.
- Tremolite was also used in plumbing materials, paint, insulation, roofing materials, sealants, and other construction products.
- It is no longer mined and has been found to have been involved in many diagnoses of asbestos-related illnesses.
- Due to its presence in talc, tremolite is sometimes still found in products as a contaminant. In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers about tremolite asbestos found in children’s makeup products from the store Claire’s.
- Crocidolite is the most hazardous form of asbestos.
- Also known as blue asbestos, crocidolite consists of extremely fine, sharp fibers. This structure makes them dangerously easy to inhale, ingest, or transport on clothing.
- U.S. industries rarely used crocidolite, but it could be found in battery casings, fireproofing materials, insulation, cement, and ceiling tiles.
- R.J. Reynolds once made Kent brand cigarettes with crocidolite asbestos in the filters. The company marketed the filters as safer than most and capable of producing a more pure smoke. Unfortunately, the asbestos in the filters caused more harm than most cigarettes.
- Crocidolite caused a lot of harm in Australia for its use as a loose form of wall and attic insulation sold under the brand name “Mr. Fluffy.” Manufacturers advertised it as a safe, inexpensive way to insulate homes.
- Crocidolite processing workers, miners, and residents near the mines in Australia had high rates of mesothelioma diagnoses.
- Even today, many homes in Australia contain “Mr. Fluffy” insulation.
- Crocidolite was also mined in South Africa and Bolivia.
Other Asbestos Minerals
There are six main types of minerals, but as with most natural substances, they don’t always occur alone. Minerals often develop in the ground entwined with others. Two minerals that commonly contain traces of asbestos for this reason are:
- Talc. Talc is a soft mineral used for chalk, cosmetics, hygiene products, and industrial products like rubber or friction components. Asbestos in talcum powder has led to numerous cases of ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. Companies like Johnson & Johnson are facing many lawsuits over exposure and illness.
- Vermiculite. Used in insulation, packaging, and soil mixes, vermiculite is harmless. It can, however, be contaminated with asbestos. The most harmful instance of asbestos in vermiculite occurred in the W.R. Grace mine in Libby, Montana. The company shipped contaminated vermiculite all over the country for processing. It harmed processing plant workers, nearby residents, miners, and people who lived in Libby.
If you believe you were exposed to any type of asbestos and are now sick, contact a mesothelioma lawyer. They can help you determine which companies are responsible and will give you options for seeking compensation.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Anne Courtney, AOCNP, DNP
Anne Courtney has a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and is an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner. She has years of oncology experience working with patients with malignant mesothelioma, as well as other types of cancer. Dr. Courtney currently works at University of Texas LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.