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In the past, homes were often insulated with extremely flammable materials such as newspaper or straw. When asbestos became prevalent, it seemed like a miracle material. Resistant to flame, asbestos could be stuffed around electrical wiring without creating a fire hazard. Also, asbestos is cheap and readily available in mines all over the world. It seemed logical to include asbestos in home construction materials.
Many years later, after asbestos had gained global popularity as an insulating material, its association with the aggressive, rare cancer known as mesothelioma was discovered. By then, many hundreds of thousands of people had been exposed to this dangerous mineral.
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral which occurs in several different forms, described below. Some types may carry more mesothelioma risk than others.
Also referred to as “white asbestos,” chrysotile differs from other forms in its structure. Many other forms of asbestos have straight, pin-shaped fibers. However, chrysotile is spiral-shaped. This form of asbestos is consideredthe least dangerous type in regard to mesothelioma risk. This may be due to to a comparatively lengthy latency period, however. Chrysotile the most common form of asbestos used for insulation in the United States.
Commonly called “brown asbestos,” amosite is commonly used to reinforce thin sheets of cement, such as for pipe or floor insulation. This form of asbestos is very hazardous if inhaled or ingested. Therefore, 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 they can easily be inhaled.
This rare type of asbestos is yellowish-gold in color. Seldom used in industrial applications, anthophylite is commonly found alongside talc deposits. Therefore, people who work in talc mines are at an increased risk of exposure and thus have a moderate-to-severe risk of developing mesothelioma. Because this form of asbestos was accidentally mined along 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. Never specifically used in industrial applications, aactinolite was often accidentally mined alongside naturally-occurring talc deposits. Actinolite is also frequently found in and around vermiculite deposits. As vermiculite is a popular potting soil additive, accidental exposure to actinolite was once common. Later, strict enforcement of vermiculite processing regulations may have reduced the risk of exposure. Actinolite exposure does carry a mild-to-moderate risk of mesothelioma.
Whitish-to-green in color, tremolite is similar to actinolite in structure. Tremolite is also similar to actinolite and anthophyllite in another way. During a time when talc and vermiculite mining had fewer regulations, this hazardous mineral was processed accidentally with the other mined minerals. This lead to accidental exposure for miners and people working at processing plants. Although tremolite itself was not used for insulation or in manufacturing, people inadvertently exposed due to their jobs face mild-to-moderate risk of mesothelioma.
The most hazardous form of asbestos is crocidolite. This so-called “blue asbestos” is constructed of extremely fine, sharp fibers. This structure makes them dangerously easy to inhale, ingest, or transport on clothing. Crocidolite gained infamy in Australia for its use as a loose form of wall and attic insulation sold under the brand name “Mr Fluffy.” It was once advertised as a safe, inexpensive way to insulate your home. However, the increase in mesothelioma diagnoses among crocidolite processing workers and blue asbestos miners (as well those who lived near factories and mines) tells a different story.
Even today, many homes in Australia contain unremediated “Mr Fluffy” insulation. This causes serious concerns over what the future holds. The latency period with mesothelioma is particularly long, so those exposed in infancy may appear healthy until symptoms develop decades later.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.