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By now most people know that extensive exposure to Asbestos is about as healthy as snorting coal dust by the gallon. But what exactly is Asbestos and what ill-health effects does it cause?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is still mined in Australia, Canada, South Africa, and the former Soviet Union. These minerals are categorized into two groups. The first are called "serpentines" and have a layered sheet-like structure. The second are called "amphilboles" and are chain-like. Asbestos is incredibly versatile and has been used most commonly as an insulator or fire retardant.
This mineral is unhealthy when it is inhaled and is only dangerous when it becomes airborne. Substantial exposure can cause scarring of the lung tissue called Asbestosis. Asbestos can also lead to a cancer of the pleural lining called Mesothelioma, or malignant tumors of the bronchi covering. For much more information about asbestos, check out the Asbestos Institute or OSHA.
The image shown here was taken using a scanning electron microscope (SEM). These machines use a highly focused electron beam to scan a specimen and then create analog or digital pictures. The beam can focus on an area the diameter of a nanometer (one billionth of a meter) and can generate magnifications from 85 times to over 50,000 times the area being scanned.
Image courtesy of Innovative Technology Solutions Corporation.