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Asbestos is the name of a group of highly fibrous minerals with separable, long, and thin fibers. Separated asbestos fibers are strong enough and flexible enough to be spun and woven. Regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognize six asbestos minerals:
Chrysotile, a serpentine mineral with long and flexible fibers
Amphibole (with relatively brittle crystalline fibers)
Asbestos minerals have separable long fibers that are strong and flexible enough to be spun and woven into cloth and other products. However, its most important quality is that it is heat resistant. This quality has been known for more than 2,000 years.
Asbestos was named by the Ancient Greeks, its name meaning "inextinguishable". It was used for a variety of purposes by the Greeks who noted its harmful biological effects and they observed the "sickness of the lungs" in the slaves that wove asbestos into cloth.
Asbestos use became most popular during the Industrial Revolution beginning in the late 1800s. It then began to be used as insulation for steam pipes, turbines, boilers, kilns, ovens, and other high-temperature products. Ancient observations of the health risks of asbestos were either forgotten or ignored.