Asbestos is a generic term used for a large group of minerals with complex chemical composition that includes magnesium, silicon, oxygen, hydrogen, and other elements. The minerals collectively known as asbestos are often sub-divided into two smaller groups, the serpentines and amphiboles. All forms of asbestos are best known for an important common property—their resistance to heat and flame. That property is responsible, in fact, for the name asbestos (Greek), meaning "unquenchable." Asbestos has been used for thousands of years in the production of heat resistant materials such as lamp wicks.
Today, asbestos is used as a reinforcing material in cement, in vinyl floor tiles, in fire-fighting garments and fire-proofing materials, in the manufacture of brake linings and clutch facings, for electrical and heat insulation, and in pressure pipes and ducts.
Prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers can block the respiratory system and lead to the development of asbestosis and/or lung cancer. The latency period for these disorders is at least 20 years, so men and women who mined the mineral or used it for various construction purposes during the 1940s and 1950s were not aware of their risk for these diseases until late in their lives. Today, uses of the mineral in which humans are likely to be exposed to its fibers have largely been discontinued.
Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Incomplete dominance to IntuitionismIndustrial Minerals - Asbestos, Barite, Boron Compounds, Corundum, Fluorspar, Phosphates, Potassium Salts, Sodium Chloride - Feldspar