What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is known for its strength, durability and capacity to resist fire and heat. It is located in the mines of various regions in the world. Asbestos was widely used in a variety of commercial and industrial applications and products for much of the 20th century because it was inexpensive to obtain and excellent for heat and fireproofing.
Types of Asbestos
While there are six types of asbestos, only three were most commonly used in construction and the manufacture of products. They are chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite. Actinolite, anthophyllite and tremolite are the other three types of asbestos that exist.
- Chrysotile - Chrysotile was most commonly used in the manufacture of products. It is also known as white asbestos. Insulating and fireproofing were the primary applications where chrysotile was used. A highly versatile material, chrysotile could be woven into cloth to make fire-proof theater curtains and protective clothing. It was also commonly found in cements and automotive products including brake shoes, brake pads and clutches.
- Amosite - Amosite asbestos is also known as brown asbestos. Next to chrysotile asbestos, it was the most commonly used type of asbestos that workers were exposed to. Amosite was typically used as insulation in the construction of buildings and factories as well as in acoustical applications and situations that required anti-condensation materials.
- Crocidolite - Crocidolite, known as blue asbestos, represents less than 10% of asbestos use in the United States. This is primarily because crocidolite is more brittle than chrysotile and amosite and therefore has a tendency to break more easily. It was most commonly used in the manufacture of yarns and rope lagging and to reinforce plastic materials.
Risks of Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos is a highly hazardous substance. When it is cut or damaged in any way, the tiny, microscopic fibers that characterize this mineral become airborne. Those working in the vicinity of these airborne fibers are then at risk to inhale them. Navy personnel working in poorly ventilated and close quarters on ships were highly susceptible to breathing in airborne fibers. Because the fibers are so tiny in nature, once they enter the lungs or get ingested it is difficult for the body to expel them. If they are not expelled, they lodge in the thin lining that surrounds the major organs of the lungs, heart and/or abdomen which can in turn can result in the development of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.
History of Asbestos Use
Asbestos has long been used in the manufacture of building materials and textiles. As the industrialized nation continued to develop throughout the 20th century asbestos use widened dramatically. This extremely durable fire-proofing material was broadly used in many commercial and industrial applications. These included pipe and boiler insulation, oil tank lining and the construction of factories and buildings including homes, schools and churches. It was also used to manufacture a large number of asbestos products such as automotive and railroad braking products, floor tiles, wallboard, cement, roof shingles, house siding and more. Perhaps the most notable and dangerous use of asbestos was in shipbuilding and in the construction of shipyards. Virtually every Navy ship built prior to 1980 contained large amounts of asbestos that was especially prevalent in the engine and boiler rooms where fire-proofing is required. As a result, many of our nation's veterans were placed at extreme risk of asbestos exposure while serving their country and a great number of them have developed mesothelioma.