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Mineral: Asbestos


'Asbestos' is a generic term referring to a group of closely related fibrous magnesium silicate minerals. Tremolite is more distantly related and occurs in some talcs.

Its fibrous nature, very high melting temperature, resistance to chemical attack, low thermal and electrical conductivity have made asbestos valuable in many manufactured products. For example, asbestos fabrics were used for many years in clothing and structural products that required flame resistance and insulting properties. In ceramics, kilns were fitted with asbestos boards and modules, and buildings of all types have employed asbestos fireproofing products.

However since the public has become aware of the dangers of breathing in asbestos fibers industry has moved to find substitutes. In some cases excellent progress has been made. For example, man-made aluminum silicate fibers have been developed that can withstand very high temperatures and have extremely good insulating properties (e.g. these are used in gloves, clothing, kiln and furnace liners). In other cases it has been much more difficult to find substitutes. There have been moves to ban all asbestos use, but in most countries things have evolved into a climate of controlled use instead. One reason is that the materials employed as substitutes have been found to have significant hazards of their own.

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By Tony Hansen

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