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Any of several minerals that separate readily into long, flexible fibres. Chrysotile accounts for about 95% of all asbestos still in commercial use. The other types all belong to the amphibole group and include the highly fibrous forms of anthophyllite, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, and actinolite. Asbestos fibre was used in brake linings, insulation, roofing shingles, floor and ceiling tiles, cement pipes, and other building materials. Asbestos fabrics were used for safety apparel and theatre curtains. In the 1970s it was found that prolonged inhalation of the tiny asbestos fibres can cause asbestosis, lung cancer, and/or mesothelioma, all serious lung diseases. The incidence of mesothelioma is most commonly associated with extensive inhalation of amphibole asbestos. In 1989 the U.S. government instituted a gradual ban on the manufacture, use, and export of most products made with asbestos.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on asbestos, visit Britannica.com.