How is asbestos made?

This is a misleading question because asbestos is not actually “made.” Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was mined extensively for a variety of purposes. This material was used as a component in as many as 3,600 different commercial products and can be found in deposits across the globe in many previous mines that operated even in the United States. The use of asbestos stretches back thousands of years; it was used as a strengthener and fire-resistant additive in many materials, including cloth and earthenware vessels. In fact, the name of this material is derived from the Greek work for “unquenchable” or “inextinguishable.”

Asbestos VarietiesChrysotile Asbestos

The United States Environmental Protection Agency divides this family of minerals into two categories: serpentine asbestos and amphibole asbestos. These forms vary in their chemical composition, which led to them being used differently. For example, chrysotile asbestos, which is the sole member of the serpentine group, has curly fibers, which make it more flexible than the other forms of this material. Chrysotile was by far the most popular variety of this mineral in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Amphibole asbestos varieties, which have needlelike fibers, are often used in materials such as joint compounds and other mastics. Products that used asbestos had a wide range of composition quantities, which varied from as little as 1% asbestos content to as much as 100%.

How Asbestos Products Are Made

Asbestos was frequently added to construction materials that required exceptional strength and durability, such as roofing products and floor tiles. Asbestos was also added to adhesives and mastics to increase strength and durability, particularly in locations that underwent exposure to extreme heat, such as industrial and energy production facilities. For these materials, finely ground asbestos fibers may have been added to the mixtures that composed them. Asbestos was also used in textiles until very recently. Some of these textiles were produced with asbestos to act as fire-retardant safety materials. In these products, asbestos fibers were woven into the cloth.

How to Know Whether a Product Was Made With Asbestos

Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to tell whether a product was made with asbestos just by looking at it unless it has a label listing its ingredients. Therefore, the only way to know for sure is by having a qualified professional take samples and analyze them. Improper handling of the materials can actually exacerbate the threat, which is why untrained individuals should avoid taking samples themselves.
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