Asbestos types

Last updated on: 09.02.2022

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Asbestos was first described very precisely by Sotakos at the end of the 4th century BCE. He named the silicate "Karystos" after the city where it was found. The first independent name "Amiantos" was given to it by the Greek military physician Dioscorides in the 1st century (Büttner 2004).

According to Pausanias, the lamp of the Acropolis in Athens had a wick made of asbestos (Büttner 2004).

Raw asbestos was presented in Paris at the 1855 World's Fair as a technically useful rock. Thereafter, industrial extraction and processing of asbestos began (Büttner 2004).

Asbestos cement was developed around 1900 by the Austrian Ludwig Hatschek. He called his product "Eternit" (Dyllick 2013).

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Asbestos is a collective name for fibrous silicates that occur naturally (Ulmer 1976).

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Depending on the mechanism of formation and metal content asbestos are divided into 2 major groups and 6 different types of asbestos (Löwinger 1995):

  • 1. serpentine asbestos

Also called white asbestos or chrysotile asbestos. The fiber diameter is between 0.02 - 0.04 µ. The only representative of serpentine asbestos is chrysotile, which is used in industry (Ulmer 1976) and accounts for about 95% of the asbestos obtained (Herold 2022).

White asbestos is widespread in nature. It is used to make about 95% of the approximately 3,000 asbestos-containing products worldwide (Dyllick 2013).

  • 2. amphibole or hornblende asbestos (Ulmer 1976). These include:
    • 2. 1. blue asbestos, also known as crocidolite or "woolstone" (Ulmer 1976) (Dyllick 2013). Like chrysotile, blue asbestos can be spun (Dyllick 2013).
    • 2. 2. brown asbestos (amosite)
    • 2. 3. action lith
    • 2. 4. anthophyllite asbestos of white-yellow color
    • 2. 5. tremolite- asbestos of white- green color (Ulmer 1976)

Amphibole- asbestos have a fiber thickness of 0.1 - 0.2 µ and play a minor role economically (Dyllick 2013).

Mining of asbestos takes place particularly in Canada, South Africa and Russia (Dyllick 2013).

General information
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Asbestos combines properties such as high elasticity and tensile strength at the same time, is resistant to vibration and aging, has low thermal conductivity but is heat resistant, the friction behavior is favorable and it has low electrical conductivity.

Asbestos has been used in:

  • Electrical industry: for insulating the electric cable pipes.
  • Textile industry: for ropes, fabrics, etc.
  • Rubber industry: for gaskets, as filling material for car tires
  • Car industry for brake and clutch linings
  • Asbestos cement industry: where asbestos is processed into pipes, fittings and sheets
  • Insulation industry: used to spray asbestos on ships, cold rooms and railroad wagons
  • Paper industry: produces asbestos filters (Dyllick 2013).

Until the 2nd half of the 20th century, asbestos was also used medically e.g. in spontaneous pneumothorax or applied preoperatively to the pleural space to make it stick together (Ulmer 1976).

At the beginning of the 1980s, asbestos cement products were used in a proportion of 70-80%. Nowadays, the proportion is only about 30% (Dyllick 2013).

Health hazards

Already at the turn of the 19th / 20th century, health problems caused by inhalation of asbestos were recognized. But it was not until 1972 that the WHO's International Agency on Cancer confirmed a direct link between the inhalation of asbestos dust and the incidence of cancer (Dyllick 2013).

The cause is inhaled asbestos dust consisting of various silicates such as amosite, anthophyllite, chrysotile, crocidolite, and others, which have a fiber width of less than 3 µg in diameter and a length of more than 10 µg. Only with these size ratios, on the one hand, the fibers succeed in penetrating into the alveoli and, on the other hand, due to this, their elimination by the macrophages is significantly more difficult (Piper 2007).

Since 1929, asbestosis has been part of the Occupational Diseases Ordinance (Baur 2005).

In Germany, an ordinance on hazardous working materials was issued in 1972, and in 1973 the employers' liability insurance associations issued a regulation on "Protection against mineral dust hazardous to health."

As primary prevention measures, the production and use of asbestos was banned at the beginning of 1994 when the Hazardous Substances Ordinance of October 26, 1993 came into force (Büttner 2004).

Secondary prevention serves to prevent unavoidable exposure. Since materials containing asbestos are still present in many buildings today, demolition, renovation and maintenance of asbestos are now legally regulated by the Official Journal of the European Union, EU Directive 2009/148/EC on the protection of workers at work from asbestos (formerly: Directive 83/477/EEC). The Official Journal contains detailed information on dust control measures, wearing of special protective work suits, use of fine dust filters and regular occupational medical examinations (Büttner 2004).

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  1. Baur X et al. (2005) Position paper of the German Society of Pneumology on the assessment of silicosis. Pneumology (59). Georg Thieme Verlag 549-553
  2. Büttner J U (2004) Asbestos in pre-modern times - from myth to science. Waxmann Verlag 19, 24 - 26, 262
  3. Dyllick T (2013) Managing environmental relations: public disputes and challenge. Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden 313 - 333, 362 - 363.
  4. Herold G et al (2022) Internal medicine. Herold Publishers 398
  5. Kasper D L et al (2015) Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. Mc Graw Hill Education 1688 - 1689
  6. Löwinger H et al (1995) Demolition, remediation and maintenance of asbestos cement products on and in buildings. Expert Verlag 15
  7. Piper W (2007) Internal medicine. Springer Verlag 238
  8. Ulmer W T et al (1976) Handbook of internal medicine. Volume 4 respiratory organs 1st part: pneumoconioses. Springer Verlag Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 392 - 393

Last updated on: 09.02.2022