Asbestos is the name given to various naturally occurring fibrous minerals that form fibres through crystallisation. Asbestos fibres are resistant to heat, fire, biological and chemical degradation, and do not evaporate or dissolve in water.
Asbestos is widespread in the environment and may enter the atmosphere due to the natural breaking down of ores containing asbestos, the breakdown or damage of products that contain asbestos such as car brakes and clutches, or insulation, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, and cement from before the material was banned in 1999.
As a material, asbestos is found in abundance in rocks and soil, which is one of the reasons why it was once such a popular material in construction. Asbestos particles are often too small to be seen by the naked eye but can have a huge effect on the environment and health. Inhalation of asbestos is one of the main causes of mesothelioma cancer and can also lead to respiratory conditions.
Tremolite was one of the most commonly used types of asbestos. This is typically found in industrial asbestos and is made up of moveable and elastic fibres.
The most hazardous type of asbestos is crocidolite or blue asbestos. However, it was the least commonly used in materials and less likely to be found in old construction work compared to the others. Crocidolite is easier to identify compared to other types of asbestos since the fibres are extremely thin, similar to strands of hair.
Another commonly used type of asbestos is known as amosite or brown asbestos. It is made up of amphibole fibres and was a common material choice for insulation, cement sheets, fireproof materials, and ceiling tiles. Since it is very easily broken and crumbled, it is also the easiest to inhale and one of the most dangerous to work with.
Due to widespread use in many applications, chrysotile or white asbestos is the most common form of asbestos that you are likely to find today. It tends to be found in products where the asbestos fibres are held compact in a solid matrix, therefore, is the least dangerous type since it is less likely to become airborne. Chrysotile is made up of several fibrous materials and was widely used for roofing, fences, floor tiles, and cement.
There are various different types of asbestos, all containing different fibrous materials. Whatever the type, there is no denying that it is a health hazard and should always be dealt with by a professional.