Monday, January 30, 2012

What Are Asbestos Silicates by Wendy Moyer

Asbestos silicates, commonly called "asbestos," are rocks that resist water, fire, and corrosion. The word itself means "unquenchable" in Greek. It refers to six different types of naturally-occurring crystalline structures.

Asbestos silicates are comprised of extremely light microscopic fibers. These particles are so light that if they are broken off from the source they can stay afloat for extended lengths of time.

There are substantial deposits of asbestos silicates in the United States, South Africa, Russia, and Canada.

What Is Asbestos Used For?

Because asbestos is so abundant and cost so little it has been used extensively in the construction industry for fireproofing and insulation since the time of the Industrial Revolution. For the most part it has been reconfigured into flexible fibers that are then woven into a variety of products.

Asbestos has been, and is still being used for roofing products, flooring, thermal insulation, acoustic insulation, and fireproofing. The flexible asbestos fibers are also integrated into cement, tile, adhesives, and mastics in order to increase these products' tensile strength.

Asbestos started being used extensively during the Second World War to fireproof naval vessels. Between then and the early 1970s the fibrous material was used in many thousands of products that ranged from construction materials to cigarette filters.

Its use only began to decline in 1973, after the hazards of using asbestos became widely known.

This potentially dangerous material has never been banned in the United States. In addition, developing countries are using more of the material because it is so readily available and inexpensive.

What Types of Asbestos are Used Commercially?

Of the six varieties only three are used commercially. The most widely mined is "white asbestos," or chrysotile. The second most available type is called "brown" asbestos. It is one of the most hazardous forms of the material.

The most hazardous of all the asbestos silicates is "blue" asbestos. Blue asbestos fibers are still being used to make asbestos-cement products.

What Dangers Are Associated With Asbestos?

Because the material is so light, when the spear-like fibers break off from their host, they create a very fine dust which lingers in the air. When a person inhales this dust he or she often breathes in literally thousands of these particles with every breath that they take.

The sharp particles may then embed themselves in the cell walls of a lot of their internal organs. Over the course of time these fibers first irritate and then scar the organs.

Then, perhaps decades after the asbestos fibers were first inhaled, the scarred organs can ultimately cut off the supply of oxygen to that person's body. As a result the victim slowly suffocates.

Alternatively the irritation caused by the asbestos fibers can lead to mesothelioma cancer. This incurable disease can affect the stomach, lungs, and sometimes the victim's heart.

As far back as the 1920s medical literature detailed the potential dangers associated with being exposed to asbestos. Manufacturers have known since the 1930s that their products could injure and kill their employees. However they ignored and sometimes suppressed that information.

Since the 1960s mesothelioma attorneys have been proving that companies were guilty of causing their workers to acquire asbestos related diseases. And many thousands of families and individuals have received substantial mesothelioma settlements from companies who did not warn their workers or the public of the dangers associated with asbestos.