Mineralogical Characteristics of Asbestos

Steel, E. ; Wylie, A. ; Znamensky, V. S.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 7
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1986
The asbestiform habit is most commonly developed in certain amphiboles and chrysotile, but other minerals also may crystallize with this unusual habit. The habit may be characterized by (1) a fibril structure, single or twinned crystals of very small widths (generally less than 0.5 pm), which have grown with a common fiber axis direction, but are disoriented in the other crystallographic directions; (2) anomalous optical properties, primarily parallel extinction; (3) unusual tensile strength; (4) high aspect ratio; and (51 flexibility. In addition, there is evidence to indicate that some amphibole asbestos may have unusual surface properties. ASBESTOS AND THE ASBESTIFORM HABIT Asbestos is defined as a group of highly fibrous silicate minerals that readily separate into long, thin, strong fibers of sufficient flexibility to be woven, are heat resistant and chemically inert, and possess a high electric insulation, and therefore are suitable for uses where in- combustible, nonconducting, or chemically resistant material is required (Gary, et al., 1974). The most common minerals that may occur with the asbestiform habit are chrysotile, grunerite (amosite], riebeckite (crocidolite), actinolite, anthophyllite, and tremolite; although the development of this habit among these minerals is rare. Other minerals, most notably other amphiboles, can occur in this habit, but no others have been mined commercially as asbestos. All asbestos is confined to metamorphic rocks, even though other habits of the amphiboles are common in igneous rocks. Slip fiber veins are the most common deposits (South African amosite, Canadian chrysotile, etc.), but mass fiber deposits also may occur such as California chrysotile or mountain leather. Field relations and experimental data support the hypothesis that metasomatism is the dominant process in the formation of asbestos fibers, amphibole as well as serpentine. The crystal habit of a mineral is the shape or form a crystal or aggregate of crystals take on during crystallization. The asbestiform habit has a number of characteristics that differentiate it from other habits. Chief among these is the fibril structure.Afibri1 is a single or twinned crystal with a very small width, generally less than 0.5 pm, and an extremely high aspect ratio; bundles of fibrils may have lengths reaching into the cm. Fibrils share a common crystal growth direction along the long axis of the fiber, but appear to be disoriented with respect to one another in the other crystallographic directions. The structure of the individual fibrils, and the organization of fibrils within a fiber may differ among the various types of asbestos. The fibril structure of asbestos is probably a factor in controlling a number of secondary properties that include high tensile strength, flexibility sufficient for weaving, and anomalous optical properties. The high tensile strength of asbestos is quite remarkable, exceeding that of the ordinary varieties by a thousand fold (Zoltai, 1978). In part, this may be attributed to the lack of defect on the fibril surfaces (Zoltai, 19781, but some contribution also must come from the existance of bundles and the nature of the ordering of and forces among the fibrils. The flexibility is not only enhanced by the fact that the fibrils may slip past one another, but by their small widths and extreme aspect ratios. However, structural defects parallel to the fiber axis also may contribute to this property. Among the common commercial asbestos types, the greatest flexibility is found in chrysotile and the least in grunerite asbestos (amosite), varying inversely with fibril thick- ness. In addition, at least for chrysotile, composition also may affect the flexibility of the fibers. Finally, most asbestos minerals are mono- clinic, but optically display parallel extinction (Heinrich, 1965, and Wylie, 1978). This also must be due, in part, to the ordering or lack of ordering of the fibrils. The fibril structure is probably a random
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