Abstract

Recently, naturally occurring asbestos (NOA) has drawn the attention of numerous health and regulatory agencies and citizen groups. NOA can be released airborne by (1) the disturbance of asbestos-bearing bedrocks through human activities or natural weathering, and (2) the mining and milling of some mineral deposits in which asbestos occurs as an accessory mineral(s). Because asbestos forms in specific rock types and geologic conditions, this information can be used to focus on areas with the potential to contain asbestos, rather than devoting effort to areas with minimal NOA potential. All asbestos minerals contain magnesium, silica, and water as essential constituents, and some also contain major iron and/or calcium. Predictably, the geologic environments that host asbestos are enriched in these components. Most asbestos deposits form by metasomatic replacement of magnesium-rich rocks. Asbestos-forming environments typically display shear or evidence for a significant influx of silica-rich hydrothermal fluids. Asbestos-forming processes can be driven by regional metamorphism, contact metamorphism, or magmatic hydrothermal systems. Thus, asbestos deposits of all sizes and styles are typically hosted by magnesium-rich rocks (often also iron-rich) that were altered by a metamorphic or magmatic process. Rock types known to host asbestos include serpentinites, altered ultramafic and some mafic rocks, dolomitic marbles and metamorphosed dolostones, metamorphosed iron formations, and alkalic intrusions and carbonatites. Other rock types appear unlikely to contain asbestos. These geologic insights can be used by the mining industry, regulators, land managers, and others to focus attention on the critical locales most likely to contain asbestos.

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