The serpentine group refers to an olive green colored group of silicate minerals that are primarily composed of iron and magnesium but that may also contain small amounts of nickel, chromium and cobalt. Chrysotile, the most common form of asbestos used in the United States, is a member of this group.
What Does Chrysotile Asbestos Look Like?
Chrysotile is usually white or off white in color. It has long wavy fibers, which can be extremely long and flexible. These characteristics contributed to the popularity of weaving these fibers into heat resistant cloth. The shorter variety of chrysotile fibers were typically used as binders and strengtheners in plastics and cement, or as filler for insulation.
Chrysotile has the classic serpentine structure of a bending sheet. There are three known serpentines, but only chrysotile has continuous sheets that bend to form continuous tubes, which give it the fibrousness associated with asbestos.
Chrysotile in its pure form contains no iron, which is the reason it appears to be white. Its flexibility tends to make it less friable, meaning it doesn’t crumble easily when touched. The less friable asbestos is, the fewer fibers it releases into the air that can be inhaled. That’s why chrysotile was thought to be not as hazardous as either of the other two widely used forms of asbestos, amosite and crocidolite. Still, exposure to any type of asbestos could potentially cause mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Where is Chrysotile Asbestos Found?
Ninety-five percent of all asbestos used in this country is chrysotile and it is mined in Canada. In fact, according to the Mineral Zone Web site, Canada still does a significant amount of business in chrysotile:
“The majority of the 500,000 metric tons of chrysotile asbestos produced annually in Québec is exported. Canada uses some 6,000 tons of chrysotile asbestos every year. Friction products, composite materials and asbestos textiles are the main domestic market outlets. Unlike most countries, Canada no longer manufactures chrysotile-cement products. In the residential sector, the North American market has turned to wood because of the availability of this raw material. On the infrastructure side, which includes networks of water mains made of asbestos-cement pipe, the work is for all intents and purposes complete. Though no longer manufactured in Québec, 2,000 to 3,000 tons of asbestos cement are imported and used on construction sites each year.”
The Canadian asbestos industry may be collapsing
In an article titled “Minister Hints at Pulling Plug on Asbestos Mine Expansion”, published July 7, 2011 in the Montreal Gazette, Michelle Lalonde, the paper’s environmental reporter, noted that Quebec’s plan to spend $58 million to expand the Jeffrey Mine, which is the biggest asbestos mine in the country, may be abandoned if there aren’t enough commitments from private investors by the mid-August deadline. The mine employs approximately 500 workers.
Canada’s last asbestos mine about to run out of asbestos, posted July 22, 2011 on CTV News Web site it was disclosed that a confidential memo issued by Natural Resources Canada suggested that Lac d’amiante du Canada mine, the country last fully functional asbestos mine, will run out in early 2012.