Mineralogy of asbestos.
The term asbestos collectively refers to a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals which have been exploited in numerous commercial and industrial settings and applications dating to antiquity. Its myriad uses as a "miracle mineral" owe to its remarkable properties of extreme resistance to thermal and chemical breakdown, tensile strength, and fibrous habit which allows it to be spun and woven into textiles. Abundant in nature, it has been mined considerably, and in all continents save Antarctica. The nomenclature concerning asbestos and its related species is complex, owing to the interest held therein by scientific disciplines such as geology, mineralogy and medicine, as well as legal and regulatory authorities. As fibrous silicates, asbestos minerals are broadly classified into the serpentine (chrysotile) and amphibole (crocidolite, amosite, tremolite, anthophyllite, actinolite) groups, both of which may also contain allied but nonfibrous forms of similar or even identical chemical composition, nonpathogenic to humans. Recently, fibrous amphiboles, not historically classified or regulated as asbestos (winchite, richterite), have been implicated in the causation of serious disease due to their profusion as natural contaminants of vermiculite, a commercially useful and nonfibrous silicate mineral. Although generally grouped, classified, and regulated collectively as asbestos, the serpentine and amphibole groups have different geologic occurrences and, more importantly, significant differences in crystalline structures and chemical compositions. These in turn impart differences in fiber structure and dimension, as well as biopersistence, leading to marked differences in relative potency for causing disease in humans for the group of minerals known as asbestos.
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