What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring silicate mineral fibers. These fibers readily resist heat, chemicals, electricity, and corrosion. As a result, it makes a popular additive to many products.

Unfortunately, asbestos fibers are highly toxic. When they are are breathed in or swallowed, it can result in serious illness.

This article explores:

  • the types of asbestos
  • what it looks like, and
  • the health risks of inhaling asbestos fibers.

Asbestos: the six types

Asbestos are mined from natural deposits around the world. They can then be processed into many products.

There are six main types of asbestos. They belong to either the amphibole or serpentine family. The serpentine family contains just one member of asbestos: the chrysotile type. The remaining five types form the amphibole family. The difference between these two families is in the nature and appearance of the fiber. Serpentine has long, pliable, and curly fibers. On the other hand, amphibole fibers are straight, stiff, and needle-like.

Let’s learn more about the six types.

types-of-asbestos

Chrysotile

Chrysotile (white asbestos) is the sole member of the serpentine family. This type of asbestos is the most abundant one. The construction sector has used it widely in roofs, ceilings, walls, and floors in homes and businesses. You’ll also find it in automobile brake linings, boiler seals and gaskets, as well as insulation for appliances, pipes, and ducts.

Amosite

Amosite (brown asbestos) is one of the most hazardous asbestos. It’s the second most commonly used type of asbestos and widely used in cement sheets and pipe insulation. The manufacture of thermal insulating products, insulating boards, and ceiling tiles also involve the use of amosite.

Crocidolite

Crocidolite (blue asbestos) is the most dangerous asbestos in the amphibole family. It has fine sharp fibers that humans can inhale easily. It’s commonly used to insulate steam engines, pipe insulation, cement, and plastic products. This type of asbestos could be responsible for more deaths and illnesses than any other type in the amphibole family.

Anthophyllite

Anthophyllite is one of the rarest forms of asbestos. It tends to have a white, dull green, or grey color, and contains iron and magnesium. Although you can’t find anthophyllite in consumer products, it’s found in some insulation materials and cement, as well as vermiculite and talc.

Tremolite

Tremolite is heat-resistant. It has several colors, from milky white to dark green. The mining of tremolite has ceased due to its link to many cases of asbestos-related cancer and diseases. However, some paints, sealants, plumbing, roofing, and insulation materials use this type of asbestos.

Actinolite

Actinolite is dark in color and has sharp fibers that can easily be inhaled. It comprises several materials, including iron, magnesium, silicon, and calcium. A variety of products such as sealants, cement, drywall, and paints use actinolite.

What does asbestos look like?

Because of its tiny fibers, asbestos is hard to find.

Under the microscope, asbestos fibers are long and thin, depending on its type. It looks like a ball of floss with a fine consistency. Serpentine absestos has long, pliable, and curly fibers, while amphibole types have fibers that are straight, stiff, and needle-like.

What are the health risks of asbestos?

Asbestos doesn’t cause any harm if it’s left alone.

However, asbestos fibers release into the air if asbestos-containing material is disturbed. Then, humans can inhale or swallow these fibers. The result? A risk of serious health issues. When humans inhale the fibers, they gradually damage the lungs. Because of this, an increased risk of mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other illnesses threaten the health of the person who has inhaled the asbestos.

Asbestosis is an example of a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling too many asbestos fibers.

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

The symptoms of asbestosis do not usually show up until after 20-30 years. Eventually, it leads to scarring of the lungs. Although treatment can alleviate symptoms, there is no cure for asbestosis.

Summary

Asbestos are fibers that bind together in a light (but indestructible) material. Asbestos is a very useful material, but it’s also hazardous to human health.

If asbestos on a property is enclosed and undisturbed, there’s no risk of exposure to asbestos. However, the greatest risk comes with damage to an asbestos-containing material. This releases fibers in the air where a human can then inhale them.

To prevent asbestos-related disease, limit asbestos exposure as much as possible in the workplace and on private properties.

Are you concerned that asbestos is on your property? Envirofree provides same-day asbestos testing, inspections and removal advice in Melbourne, Victoria.