Types of Asbestos & Health Risks

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring silicate mineral fibers that can readily resist heat, chemicals, electricity, and corrosion. These qualities make it a popular additive to a variety of products, but also make asbestos exposure highly toxic.

Asbestos is a highly durable but dangerous mineral. Development of mesothelioma, a deadly and incurable cancer if asbestos fibers are breathed in or swallowed.

Asbestos can be mined from natural deposits anywhere around the world. After it has been removed from the ground, it can then be processed and developed into a large number of products.

Types of Asbestos

Although all asbestos is fibrous, there are six main types of asbestos. Each type can either belong to the amphibole or serpentine family. However, the difference between serpentine and amphibole asbestos is the nature and appearance of the fiber.

Serpentine has long, pliable, and curly fibers. Amphibole fibers, on the other hand, are straight, stiff, and needle-like. The only serpentine asbestos is the chrysotile. The remaining five are classified as amphibole asbestos.

types-of-asbestos

Chrysotile

Chrysotile (white asbestos) is the only known asbestos that belongs to the serpentine family and is the most abundant and most commonly used form of asbestos. It is widely used in the construction sector as roofs, ceilings, walls, and floors homes and businesses. It is also used in the production of automobile brake linings, boiler seals and gaskets, and insulation for appliances, pipes, and ducts.

Amosite

Amosite (brown asbestos) is one of the most hazardous asbestos. Being the second most commonly used type of asbestos after chrysotile, it is widely used in cement sheets and pipe insulation. It can also be used in the manufacture of thermal insulating products, insulating boards, and ceiling tiles.

Crocidolite

Crocidolite, often referred to as blue asbestos, is the most dangerous asbestos in the amphibole family. It is made up of fine sharp fibers that when airborne, can be easily inhaled. Research has proved that crocidolite is so hazardous that it could be responsible for more deaths and illnesses than any other type of asbestos in the amphibole family.

It is commonly used to insulate steam engines. It can also be used in pipe insulation, cement, and plastic products.

Anthophyllite

Anthophyllite is one of the rarest forms of asbestos and may have a white, dull green, or grey color. It is made up of mainly iron and magnesium. Although Anthophyllite is not used in consumer products, it can be found in some insulation materials and cement. It is also present as a contaminant in vermiculite, talc, and chrysotile asbestos.

Tremolite

Tremolite is known for its heat-resistant properties and can also be woven into fabric. It has several colors, from milky white to dark green. Tremolite is said to be responsible for many cases of asbestos-related cancer and asbestos diseases. As a result, it is no longer mined.

Tremolite is used in the manufacture of paints, sealants, plumbing, roofing, and insulation materials.

Actinolite

Actinolite is dark in color and has sharp fibers that can easily be inhaled. It is made up of other minerals, including iron, magnesium, silicon, and calcium. Actinolite can be used in a wide variety of products such as sealants, insulation materials, cement, drywall, and paints.

What Does Asbestos Look Like?

Asbestos is always hard to find because its fibers are tiny. However, extensive research shows that asbestos looks like a ball of floss with a fine consistency that can be harmful when inhaled.

When asbestos fiber is placed under the microscope, it is long and thin, depending on the type of asbestos being inspected. Serpentine has long, pliable, and curly fibers, while amphibole fibers are straight, stiff, and needle-like.

What Are the Health Risks of Asbestos?

Asbestos fibers can cause serious health issues when swallowed or inhaled and become embedded in organ linings and tissues. The health implications of inhaling asbestos include mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other illnesses.

What Are the Symptoms of Asbestosis?

Asbestosis is described as a chronic lung disease that can be caused by inhaling too many asbestos fibers. While asbestos is dangerous, it can’t cause any harm if left alone. However, if asbestos-containing material is disturbed, fine dust that contains asbestos fibers can be released in the process.

When the dust is inhaled, the asbestos fibers will enter the lungs and start damaging them gradually. The symptoms of asbestosis do not usually show up until after 20-30 years.

Inhaling asbestos fibers over many years will lead to scarring of the lungs. The symptoms of asbestosis include:

  • A persistent, dry cough
  • shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Toes and fingertips that appear rounder and wider rounder than normal (clubbing)
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Loss of appetite with weight loss

Asbestosis Disease

The major cause of asbestosis disease can be traced back to consistent and long-term exposure to asbestos-containing materials in construction sites and industrial facilities. It usually takes years of consistent exposure to asbestos for an asbestos-related illness to develop. This is accompanied by a latency period that may last for 20-30 years before symptoms present.

Although treatment can alleviate symptoms, there is no cure for asbestosis.

How to Prevent Asbestosis Disease

One of the best ways to prevent asbestosis disease is to limit your asbestos exposure.  Also, employers working in industries that use asbestos products should take special safety measures.

Concerned there may be asbestos in your property? Envirofree provides same-day asbestos testing, inspections and removal advice in Melbourne, Victoria.

Wrapping Up

Asbestos is made up of many fibers, which bind together to give an indestructible but light material. It is a strong, incombustible fiber that is used for fireproofing and insulation. Despite its wide application, it could be hazardous to human health when inhaled or swallowed.

However, it is worthy to note that there’s no risk of exposure as long as the asbestos is enclosed and undisturbed. It is when asbestos-containing materials are damaged and the fibers being released into the air are inhaled.

The Envirofree Guide to Asbestos

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is the fibrous form of the mineral silicates belonging to the serpentine and amphibole groups of rock-forming minerals and includes actinolite, amosite (brown asbestos), anthophyllite, crocidolite (blue asbestos), chrysotile (white asbestos), tremolite or any material containing one or more of the mineral silicates belonging to the serpentine and amphibole groups. Prior to 1987, asbestos was widely used in building materials such as wall lining, vinyl floor tiles, eaves, corrugated roofing and fencing. These asbestos-containing materials are considered non-friable (bonded). Any asbestos-containing materials such as pipe, boiler and fire rating insulation that can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to powder by hand pressure are considered friable.

What is a Hazardous Material?

A substance that poses a risk to your health or the environment is a hazardous substance. Examples of hazardous substances include asbestos, lead-in-paint, synthetic mineral fibre, polychlorinated biphenyls and chlorofluorocarbons. For a list of Australian classified hazardous substances please refer to the Hazardous Substances Information System.

Some helpful links about asbestos awareness in the workplace:

Asbestos: ABC News

Asbestos spread through their share house, but these women had to fight for months to get compensation.

I recently came across an ABC News Article which outlines the concerning state of asbestos in Victoria. It appears the lack of knowledge in our communities/workplaces is very low. It also highlights how widely spread asbestos problems are in Victoria and Australia. I have attached an ABC news article outlining a residential rental property disaster story. In the video, an occupational hygienist was commissioned to safely identify and implement control measures. The house was deemed contaminated following the cutting of the asbestos cement.

The occupants of the house were exposed to the harmful asbestos fibres for roughly two weeks after the works had been completed. The video demonstrates how important seeking professional advice from a Licensed Asbestos Assessor or Occupational Hygienist is prior to any demolition, renovation or refurbishment works.