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  • Asbestos is a group of minerals with long, thin fibrous crystals. The word "asbestos" is derived from a Greek adjective meaning inextinguishable.
  • The Greeks termed asbestos the "miracle mineral" because of its soft and pliant properties, as well as its ability to withstand heat.
  • When asbestos is used for its resistance to fire or heat, the fibers are often mixed with cement or woven into fabric or mats.
  • This "miracle material" is now known to be highly toxic. The inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious illnesses, including mesothelioma and asbestosis. Since the mid 1980s, many uses of asbestos have been banned in many countries.


  • Asbestos deposits are found underground, and the ore is brought to the surface for processing using conventional mining practices.
  • Chrysotile asbestos is usually found near the surface and can be accessed with an open-pit mine. Other asbestos deposits are found at varying depths and may require tunnels as deep as 900 ft to gain access.
  • Asbestos fibers are formed by the gradual growth of mineral crystals in cracks, or veins, found in soft rock formations.
  • The crystals grow across the vein, and the width of the vein determines the resulting asbestos fiber length. Because the minerals come from the surrounding rock, the chemical composition of the fibers is similar to the rock.


  • Asbestos is used in brake shoes and gaskets for its heat resistance.
  • In the past was used on electric oven and hotplate wiring for its electrical insulation at elevated temperature.
  • Asbestos is used in buildings for its flame-retardant and insulating properties, tensile strength, flexibility, and resistance to chemicals.
  • In Japan, particularly after World War II, asbestos was used in the manufacture of ammonium sulfate for purposes of rice production, sprayed upon the ceilings, iron skeletons, and walls of railroad cars and buildings and used for energy efficiency reasons as well.
  • In the past asbestos was used as insulation in U.S. and Canada.


  • Sales and use of asbestos increased to meet the demands of these new and expanding markets.
  • Greece was importing about 30,000 t/yr of asbestos for its own asbestos-cement industry.
  • Zimbabwe is renowned for its production of low-iron, long-fiber chrysotile.
  • As with many of the industrial minerals mining industries in China, accurate production and trade data on asbestos are difficult to obtain and frequently are not available.


  • The Chicago and Northeast Illinois District Council of Carpenters Apprentice and Training Program, for instance, now addresses fiber-cement siding along with vinyl, cedar, and aluminum siding—plus soffits and fascia—in its apprentice and journeymen upgrade training.
  • The Quebec Asbestos Mining Association (QAMA) developed a method for grading chrysotile that has been widely used since its development.
  • In the United Kingdom T & N extended its interests in asbestos products by expanding the capacity of its existing asbestos cement, textiles and friction materials factories.

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