Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was once famed for its fire resistant properties, making it a popular substance for use in insulation for homes and vehicles. It was later discovered that breathing in fibers from any asbestos types could lead to mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer. There are six asbestos types: crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, chrysotile, and actinolite.
Crocidolite asbestos has blue fibers, and is also referred to as blue asbestos. It is found in many areas of the world, including Russia, Canada, and Australia. It is the most highly toxic of all of the asbestos types.
Amosite comes in both brown and gray forms. Its fibers are straight and very brittle. It is named for the asbestos mine in South Africa where it is found in large quantity. Before all of the health risks of using asbestos types came to light, it was a popular asbestos for insulation.
Anthophyllite is an asbestos that is actually chains of crystals created during the breakdown of the mineral talc. It can come in various colors, including whites, greens, browns, and grays. It is not usually used commercially, although it can be found in some older talcum powders, sealants, and paints.
Tremolite is a primarily white asbestos that is present in many rocks. It is named for a valley in Switzerland, Val Tremola. Like anthophyllite, it was used in talcum powder, as well as in other home and garden products.
Chrysotile is also white, and is a product of serpentine rocks. Its fibers are curled, unlike the other types. It was used as a bonding material in roofing, garages, and other building applications. It can also be made into fabric, due to its flexibility.
Actinolite comes from metamorphic rocks. It is the least commonly exploited form asbestos, although it is sometimes used in jewelry. It is made of hard fibers, which are less likely to be inhaled than asbestos which is made up of soft fibers.
Although all asbestos types are known carcinogens, asbestos is still mined throughout the world, although safety precautions have been put in place. Asbestos of any type is not commonly used in most countries for homebuilding, shipbuilding, or car manufacturing, unlike in earlier decades. Substances containing any of the asbestos types are banned for consumer purchase in many countries, including the United States, most of Europe, and South Africa.