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Asbestos - The Silent Killer

Aug 17, 2007
Emperors have cherished it. Egyptians had their burial clothes from it. Royals made their prized covers and napkins from it. It was indestructible material and valued as such. Throughout history asbestos has been used and in some empires valued more than gold itself. For all its glory it has one huge downfall. It was killing people and they did not even know it.

Asbestos is a common name describing a group of fibrous metamorphic minerals composed of hydrous-magnesium-silicate groups. Its unique chemical composition makes it an excellent insulator, flame retardant, high tensile strength and resistance to chemicals. Put it simply it was the material of choice with all around purpose.

There are several main groups of asbestos.
Chrysotile, also known as White Asbestos, is obtained from serpentine rocks. Its chemical composition is Mg3(Si2O5)(OH)4. This form of asbestos is less friable, making it the least dangerous of all.
Amosite, also known as Brown Asbestos and Grunerite, is an amphibole from South Africa and its chemical composition is Fe7Si8O22(OH). Its harsh, spiky fibers have good tensile strength and resistance to heat.
Riebeckite, also known as Blue Asbestos and Crocidolite, is an amphibole from Africa and Australia. Its chemical composition is Na2Fe2+3Fe3+2Si8O22(OH)2. The needle-like fibers are the strongest of all asbestos fibers and have a high resistance to acids. This is the most dangerous type of asbestos due to its fibrous structure and composition.

Why is asbestos so dangerous?

To answer this question lets look at the formation and decomposition of asbestos.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. Upon crystallization the molecules bind by linear polymerization producing oriented crystalline structure. This three dimensional crystalline structure is very similar to other crystals and gemstones. What makes asbestos different is that two of the planes of this molecular arrangement are much weaker than the third one. Once sufficient force is applied the crystalline structure breaks along its plane with linear fragmentation, producing fibrous material. This breakdown will continue to the molecular level. The average size of respirable asbestos is 3-20 microns and can be as thin as 0.01 microns. To make things worse this small size being airborne is easily dispersed making it that more difficult to contain. With such as small size we can not see it or taste it yet we are breathing it and accumulating it in our lungs.

Once in our system our body can not get rid of it. Our defense systems will fight it and try to get rid of it causing several types of diseases. Two predominant types are Asbestosis and Mesothelioma. The dormancy period for Asbestosis can be as much as 20 years and for Mesothelioma as much as 50 years.

One of the first recorded reports of asbestos dangers was back in 1898.
Chief Inspector of Factories of the United Kingdom reported to Parliament in his Annual Report about the "evil effects of asbestos dust". In 1918 US government report stating that it was the practice of American and Canadian life insurance companies not to sell coverage to asbestos workers due to the assumed injurious health consequences. In 1926 the Massachusetts Industrial Accidents Board approved the first successful compensation claim by asbestos worker. Since then there are numerous reports of the danger of asbestos yet the big companies continued to use asbestos to great extent. The heydays for asbestos were during the 1940s and 1950s. The profits were much more important than the human lives.

If you suspect that you have asbestos in your surrounding do not try to remove it yourself. Call the appropriate authorities and they will handle it. They are properly equipped to safely dispose it.
About the Author
Mirko Davidovic-CEO of fyi4u, winemakingplus;formal education in Chemical Eng,Biochemistry and Psychology.
For more info visit Mesothelioma and Asbestosis
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