Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is made up of soft, flexible fibres. These fibres are resistant to corrosion, electricity, and heat, making it a very useful mineral. However, asbestos exposure can also be highly toxic. Asbestos is effective at providing insulation and was commonly used to add strength to various other materials including cement, plastic, paper, and cloth. However, inhalation or ingestion of asbestos dust can lead to the mineral fibres becoming permanently trapped in the body, leading to serious conditions such as progressive lung disease, lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive type of cancer that is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos.

There are two different main types of asbestos:

Amphibole Asbestos:

This type of asbestos has a straight and jagged shape. There are five sub-types, which are:

  • Amosite
  • Crocidolite
  • Tremolite
  • Actinolite
  • Anthophyllite

Serpentine Asbestos:

Serpentine asbestos has curled fibres. There is only one type, known as chrysotile or white asbestos.

Where Does Asbestos Originate From?

Asbestos can be found as a naturally occurring mineral all over the world. It was once heavily mined in North America, and the main countries to export the material are China, Russia, and Kazakhstan. It is found either in large deposits of the mineral or as contaminants in other minerals such as vermiculite or talc. Chrysotile asbestos is known as serpentine asbestos since it is typically found as veins within the serpentine rock.

Most commercial asbestos deposits will only contain 5-6% asbestos. However, certain deposits, such as the California-based Coalinga deposit, contains over 50% asbestos.

Asbestos Exposure Risks:

No amount of exposure to asbestos is without risk. However, it generally poses the highest risk when a person is exposed to a large concentration of asbestos, or if they are exposed to asbestos regularly over a long period of time. Asbestos will accumulate within the body with each time that a person is exposed to it, and there is currently no known way to reverse the health damage that it will cause.

It is important to avoid disturbing any products that might contain asbestos since the fibres become easier to inhale once they are airborne. Asbestos-related diseases have a long latency period and often take several decades to develop.

If you suspect that this naturally occurring fibrous material may have been used in your home or commercial building materials, it is best to get a qualified and licensed professional to identity and remove the asbestos safely.