The word “asbestos” can apply to several different minerals that have similar properties. All can cause cancer and other respiratory illnesses if inhaled.
According to Asbestos.com, there are at least six different types of asbestos classified into one of two mineral families.
What are the two mineral families of asbestos?
Most types of asbestos are amphibole asbestos. The different types in this mineral family all have fibers shaped like needles. Of the five types of asbestos in this group, only two have had any commercial value.
Serpentine asbestos consists of only one type, also called chrysotile or white asbestos. This is the type of asbestos that has historically been most common in commercial applications. It has sheets of crystals that form into curly fibers.
Are some types of asbestos more dangerous than others?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of illness may be higher with exposure to amphibole asbestos. This is partly because amphibole asbestos stays in the lungs for a longer period of time. It may take less exposure to amphibole asbestos to cause cancer compared to serpentine asbestos.
However, federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services stress that all types of asbestos are dangerous. Chrysotile may pose a greater risk merely because, historically, its use was more widespread than any other type of asbestos. As a result, it may be more likely that a person could encounter serpentine asbestos than any other type.
All types of asbestos are carcinogens that may cause cancer of the larynx, ovaries and lungs, as well as malignant mesothelioma.