Asbestos is a general name that applies to several types of fibrous silicate minerals. Historically, the word asbestos comes from the Greek meaning inextinguishable, or indestructible. In fact, there are many types of asbestos fibre which are divided into two families: the serpentine and the amphiboles. Though having the same commercial name, amphibole (brown and blue asbestos fibre) and serpentine (chrysotile – white asbestos) are totally two separated types of fibre based on their differences in , color, physical/chemical properties and their impact on human health.
Being best known for its properties of strong, flexible, and heat resistant, asbestos has been used since ancient times by the Romans for making cloths and lamp wicks. The Greeks also wove the material into cloth. In the Middle Ages, asbestos was used for insulating suits of armor. Lately, the United States started producing asbestos for doing insulation for boilers, fireboxes and pipes in steam locomotive, boxcars, cabooses or steam water lines. More modern applications of asbestos take its advantages for producing asbestos-reinforced cement products such as pipes, sheets, or shingles used in building construction. The World War II years saw a great using of asbestos for manufacturing ships as well. Modern applications of chrysotile include production of fibro cement products such as pipe, roofsheet, tiles in construction industry.
Due to the severe lung damages after 10 – 20 years of incubation caused by amphibole asbestos (brown and blue asbestos) after entering body, it has been banned from being used under any form in many countries since 1980. Meanwhile, serpentine fibre (chrysotile or white asbestos) is still allowed to be used safely and under control. Scientific researches, both international and Vietnam, have not found any evidence of disease cause by chrysotile exposure.
Nowadays, chrysotile is currently mined in Brazil, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, India while brown and blue asbestos mines, mostly located in North Africa and Australia, were closed in the late 20th century.
Asia market is now the world’s biggest chrysotile consuming market with China ranked first following by India and Thailand. In those drastically developing nations, chrysotile plays a critical role in production industries of construction materials, anti-friction materials and textile products. Construction material containing chrysotile is the best choice for low income class due to its low cost and outstanding characteristics appropriated with financial and environmental condition. Supreme Court of India, in January 2011, rejected the request from Non-Governmental Organizations of banning all kind asbestos. Other countries, such as Singapore, Taiwan and Mongolia had banned chrysotile in the past, but then have revoked the ban since 2010 and 2011.
Europe has a long history of using brown and blue asbestos without control, which causes respiratory diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer in many exposed workers. In 1999, the European Commission establish to its members the asbestos ban regulation in all fields of life.
The Commonwealth of Independent States (SNG) such as Russia, Kazakhstan, are countries owning the largest capacity chrysotile mines. In Russia, though mining and using chrysotile, the town Asbest, located next to a 8km in length, 2km in width, is having over 68.000 civilians, who are living and working without any symptom of lung related diseases. Until now, the chrysotile industry in Russia has had over 125 years of experience, accounting for 80% of economic resource of the country, 50% total capacity of chrysotile in the world and is using 500.000 workers.
In the Latin America region, apart from a small number of country releasing the ban regulation with chrysotile, most of the countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Cuba are using chrysotile as a critical part in many industries.
The two North America countries – the U.S and Canada – after years of debating are still allow the use of chrysotile in a variety of products. Especially the case of the U.S, which banned asbestos in 1980 following the proposal of EPA but then the Supreme Court of the United States, in 1991, revoked the ban because scientific researches in the U.S showed that using chrysotile under control cause no harm to the human health. Meanwhile the alternative options for chrysotile have high cost, low efficiency and their risk to human health has not been researched yet.