Did you know that there are different types of asbestos? There are six different minerals that we collectively call “asbestos”. Chrysotile is the most commonly found mineral in asbestos-containing materials. According to OSHA, Chrysotile makes up 95% of the asbestos found in asbestos-containing materials in the United States.
Chrysotile fibers are typically more curly while other (amphibole) asbestos fibers are more needle-like. While the fibers can still cause serious health effects such as lung cancer and mesothelioma, this variety is generally considered less toxic than amphiboles. This is due to the fact that the needle-like amphiboles are able to go deeper into the lung tissue and are more durable than Chrysotile.
For my fellow geology enthusiasts, here are some interesting facts about its origin. Chrysotile is a white asbestiform mineral and the only asbestos mineral that is from the serpentine group, while the other five are from the amphibole group. Chrysotile typically appears white in color and has a curly fibrous crystal habit. Chrysotile forms when metamorphic serpentinite is hydrothermally altered, which causes Chrysotile to form in veins of the source rock. The source of most of the Chrysotile used in American products originates from Canadian mines. Serpentine is the state rock of California. Because of its relation to Chrysotile, there have been numerous attempts to remove it from its status as state rock.
In my undergrad years, I remember during a mineralogy lecture my professor bringing out several minerals to the lab table. My fellow colleagues and I walked over to see this strange looking fibrous bundle. One of the students in the class enthusiastically picked up the mineral, before our professor rushed over quickly to inform us it was asbestos. Little did I know at the moment, I would encounter this mineral many more times in the future.