9 Min Read
Last Updated: 05/29/2024
Fact Checked

Written by Michelle Whitmer | Scientifically Reviewed By Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D. | Edited By Walter Pacheco

Fact Checked

What Are the Different Types of Asbestos?

Asbestos is a commercial and legal term encompassing several minerals. The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986 classifies six minerals as commercial types of asbestos. These types of asbestos were once commonly used in manufacturing and can cause serious diseases such as cancer.

Sample of actinolite asbestos

Actinolite

Actinolite asbestos, while less prevalent than other types, is notable for its fibrous, elongated crystals that vary in color from green to gray, occasionally displaying a silky or shiny sheen.

Raw amosite asbestos

Amosite

Amosite (brown asbestos) was used most frequently in cement sheets and pipe insulation. It can also be found in insulating board, ceiling tiles and thermal insulation products.

Raw anthophyllite asbestos

Anthophyllite

Anthophyllite was used in limited quantities for insulation products and construction materials. It also occurs as a contaminant in chrysotile asbestos, vermiculite and talc. It may have a gray, dull green or white color.

Raw chrysotile asbestos

Chrysotile

Chrysotile (white asbestos) is the most commonly used form of asbestos. It’s found in roofs, ceilings, walls and floors, automobile brake linings, gaskets and boiler seals, as well as insulation for pipes, ducts and appliances.

Raw crocidolite asbestos

Crocidolite

Crocidolite (blue asbestos) was commonly used to insulate steam engines. It was also used in some spray-on coatings, pipe insulation, plastics and cement products.

Raw tremolite asbestos

Tremolite

Tremolite wasn’t used commercially, but can be found as a contaminant in chrysotile asbestos, vermiculite and talc. It can be brown, white, green, gray or transparent.

A recent U.K. study successfully identified different types of asbestos in mesothelioma samples using a type of mass spectrometry, which measures the molecular weight of compounds to identify them. Researchers said the discovery can be used to help diagnose mesothelioma and prove asbestos exposure was the cause.

Key Facts About Asbestos Types
  • Chrysotile, a type of serpentine asbestos, has historically accounted for more than 95% of all asbestos used around the world.
  • Amosite, a type of amphibole asbestos, has historically been the second most commonly used in the U.S.
  • All asbestos types cause cancers such as mesothelioma, but crocidolite may pose the highest risk because of its particularly thin fibers.
  • Asbestos may contaminate other minerals, including talc and vermiculite.

Amphibole Asbestos

Amphibole asbestos has needle-shaped fibers. Studies suggest it takes much less exposure to amphibole asbestos to cause cancer compared to serpentine asbestos. Recent research suggests that exposure to amphibole asbestos causes severe autoimmune conditions in addition to cancer and respiratory conditions.

Amphibole Types

  • Actinolite
  • Anthophyllite
  • Amosite
  • Crocidolite
  • Tremolite

Amosite and crocidolite are the most commercially valuable types of amphibole asbestos, while anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite are considered noncommercial forms. Companies have mined amphibole asbestos in Australia, Canada, Finland, Italy, South Africa and the United States.

Serpentine Asbestos

Serpentine asbestos has curly fibers made up of sheets of crystals. The single type of asbestos from the serpentine family, chrysotile, has historically accounted for more than 95% of all asbestos used around the world.

Deposits of serpentine asbestos occur in many countries around the world, including Canada, Russia, Brazil and Kazakhstan. Repeat exposure to chrysotile asbestos is associated with respiratory diseases and cancer including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

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Actinolite Asbestos

Actinolite asbestos is a less common type of asbestos. Its fibrous, elongated crystals range in color from green to gray. It can sometimes have a silky or shiny appearance. Actinolite asbestos deposits have been found in the United States, Canada, Finland and Australia.

Products Containing Actinolite Asbestos

  • Acoustic ceiling textures
  • Cement sheets
  • Drywall
  • Paint
  • Plasters
  • Roofing
  • Furnace linings
  • Spray-on fireproofing materials
  • Steam pipes
  • Textured paints
  • Tiles
  • Wall-joint compounds

It was commonly used in insulation materials, particularly in high-temperature applications. The elongated and needle-like fibers of amphibole asbestos are more durable and can penetrate deeper into the lung tissue, increasing their carcinogenic potential.

Survivor Story
Carla Fasolo Pleural mesothelioma

Asbestos Exposure and a Life Changed

Survivor Story

The dangers of asbestos are insidious. Carla’s mesothelioma was linked to a history of asbestos exposure. “It started with me going down to the Oneida County Courthouse in Utica, New York, with my dad,” she told us. “I would go down there with him, and it was very dusty in the boiler room. There would be chunks of gray, fibrous stuff down there. I didn’t know what it was, but I’d pick it up and play with it.”

Read Carla’s Story

Amosite Asbestos

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined amosite, or brown asbestos, to be the second most commonly used type of asbestos in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, exposure to amosite asbestos creates a higher risk of cancer in comparison with common chrysotile asbestos.

Products Containing Amosite Asbestos

  • Cement sheets
  • Electrical and chemical insulation
  • Fire protection
  • Floor and ceiling tiles
  • Gaskets
  • Insulating blankets
  • Insulation
  • Pipes
  • Roofing products
  • Vinyl tiles

In its natural state, amosite is known as grunerite. It was mainly mined in South Africa. The name “amosite” comes from the acronym for the Asbestos Mines of South Africa. Its fibers are long, straight and brittle, with a distinctive rod-like shape.

Anthophyllite Asbestos

Anthophyllite is one of the rarest types of asbestos and doesn’t have a long history of commercial use. The mining of this mineral began in Finland. Various other countries around the world mined smaller deposits.

Products Containing Anthophyllite Asbestos

  • Cement
  • Insulation
  • Roofing
  • Rubber
  • Talc products
  • Vermiculite products

This mineral is sometimes found in deposits of talc and vermiculite. Anthophyllite asbestos typically appears in shades of gray, green or brown. It has long, thin fibers that are brittle and can easily break into microscopic pieces.

Chrysotile Asbestos (White Asbestos)

Chrysotile, commonly referred to as white asbestos, is the most commonly used form of the mineral. It was used in the vast majority of  asbestos-containing products manufactured in the U.S. during the 20th century. The U.S. and Canada were once major producers of the toxic mineral.

Trace amounts of amphibole types of asbestos often accompany naturally occurring deposits of chrysotile, which increase its toxicity. However, exposure to chrysotile asbestos fibers alone still creates a serious risk of developing a life-threatening illness.

Products Containing Chrysotile Asbestos

  • Adhesives
  • Brake pads
  • Cement
  • Clutch facings
  • Drywall
  • Fireproofing
  • Gaskets
  • Insulation
  • Roofing
  • Textiles
  • Vinyl tiles

NIOSH has concluded people should treat chrysotile asbestos with the same level of concern as other forms of asbestos. In March 2024, the EPA announced a ban on chrysotile asbestos. It will roll out in phases over the course of 12 years, giving companies time to establish replacements.

Crocidolite Asbestos (Blue Asbestos)

Crocidolite may be responsible for more deaths than any other type of asbestos. That’s because its fibers are extremely thin, causing them to lodge more easily in lung tissue.

Products Containing Crocidolite Asbestos
  • Acid storage battery casings
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Cement sheets
  • Fireproofing
  • Electrical insulation
  • Gaskets
  • Kent Micronite cigarette filters
  • Marine insulation
  • Spray-on insulation

The mineral is blue in color, ranging from light blue to deep blue or blue-gray with characteristic fine, fibrous crystals. The most common mining sites for this type of asbestos were Bolivia, Australia and South Africa.

Tremolite Asbestos 

Tremolite asbestos is most often extracted when mining other minerals like vermiculite and talc. Mining of nephrite jade used for gemstones is a source of exposure because nephrite is composed of tremolite and actinolite. 

Tremolite asbestos can appear in various colors, including white, gray, green, and even translucent. The color of tremolite asbestos depends on impurities present in the mineral composition.

Products Containing Tremolite Asbestos
  • Gardening soils
  • Fireproof clothing
  • Industrial turbine blankets
  • Insulation
  • Paint
  • Paper
  • Plumbing
  • Roofing
  • Sealants
  • Textiles

Unlike with the commercial forms of asbestos, manufacturers rarely intended to include tremolite in their products. Even incidental amphibole contamination is still hazardous enough to cause asbestos-related illnesses.

Dr. Jacques Fontaine and Dr. Virginia Wolf
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Minerals That May Contain Asbestos

Asbestiform minerals naturally occur in many types of geological formations. The most significant cases of this contamination are in talc and vermiculite products. 

Businesses have mined asbestos intentionally to make use of its unique properties. Companies also mine other types of minerals that naturally contain asbestos.

Asbestos-Contaminated Minerals
  • Talc: The softest known mineral on earth is used in numerous products including chalk, crayons, paint, rubber, cosmetics, ceramics and pharmaceuticals. Most famously, manufacturers use this mineral for making talcum powder (commonly marketed as baby powder)
  • Vermiculite: This mineral is useful for insulation, packaging and soil improvement. Vermiculite itself is harmless, but unfortunately much of the vermiculite mined in the U.S. during the 20th century contained tremolite asbestos.

Consumers have sought legal counsel over asbestos exposure from talc-containing personal hygiene products. There are no federal laws requiring talcum powder products to be asbestos-free.

More than 70% of the vermiculite sold in the U.S. between 1919 and 1990 came from mining operations near the town of Libby, Montana — now the site of the longest running environmental cleanup operation in the EPA’s history.

Questions About Asbestos Types

Is all asbestos dangerous?

While some types of asbestos may be more hazardous than others, all are dangerous. Leading health agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classify all types of asbestos as cancer-causing substances.

All the identified forms of asbestos can cause asbestosis, malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, laryngeal cancer and other serious diseases.

Have all types of asbestos been banned?

The U.S. is banning chrysotile asbestos, but the law doesn’t ban all types of asbestos. More than 50 countries have banned the 6 types of asbestos completely.

Are there differences in the handling or removal procedures for different types of asbestos?

No, asbestos laws don’t differ based on the types of asbestos fibers. Laws instead vary depending on how dangerous the asbestos-containing material is to remove. The most dangerous categories of asbestos product removal require increased safety measures and training to perform.

What is the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986?

The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986 granted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permission to regulate the six types of asbestos.

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