The term asbestos refers to six unique minerals belonging to two mineral families, serpentine and amphibole.
The three main types of asbestos that you may come across whilst carrying out building work in the UK are:
- Chrysotile (white asbestos). Chrysotile is the most commonly used type of asbestos and is often contaminated with trace amounts of tremolite. Chrysotile fibres are usually fine in texture, possessing high flexibility and good heat resistant properties, making it ideal for use in cement, brake pads/linings and roofing materials.
- Amosite (brown asbestos). Mined mostly in Africa, amosite is a particularly strong and heat-resistant type of asbestos that was commonly used in Asbestos insulating board, plumbing insulation and electrical insulation. Though all types of asbestos are toxic, amosite asbestos exposure has a comparatively higher cancer risk.
- Crocidolite (blue asbestos). Crocidolite has very thin fibres and, if inhaled, are easily lodged in the lungs. It’s thin fibres and brittle nature make crocidolite one of the most harmful forms of asbestos, as it easily breaks down and leads to asbestos exposure.
Three Less common types of Asbestos:
Tremolite, Actinolite and Anthophyllite
There are three other types of asbestos that you may have heard about. Tremolite, actinolite and anthophyllite have never been sold commercially. Instead, they were often found as contaminants in commercially sold asbestos products.
Tremolite fibres are often found as a contaminant in chrysotile asbestos and found in paints, sealants, asbestos-containing insulation products and talc products. It can manifest in several colours, including white, green and grey, and is useful as it can be spun and woven into cloth.
Actinolite fibres are lightweight and generally dark in colour. It comes in various forms, including brittle and fibrous or dense and compact, and is often found in paints, sealants and drywall. Additionally, actinolite expands when heated, making it an effective insulation material. This property has led to actinolite being commonly used as insulation materials and structural fire-proofing.
Anthophyllite fibres are grey-brown in colour, commonly found as a contaminant in composite flooring. While anthophyllite is considered to be non-commercial, it was regularly used in products containing vermiculite and talc, such as talcum powder. Even though most studies suggest that the risk of developing mesothelioma from this type of asbestos is much lower than amosite, chrysotile and crocidolite asbestos, there is still a clear link between anthophyllite and the disease.
Why is asbestos dangerous?
- Asbestos still kills around 5000 workers each year, this is more than the number of people killed on the road of the UK each year.
- Around 20 trades people die each week as a result of past exposure
- However, asbestos is not just a problem of the past. It can be present today in any building built or refurbished before the year 2000 as the ban of asbestos containing material only came in to affect in 1999
- When materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged, fibres are released into the air.
- When these fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases.
- These diseases will not affect you immediately; they often take a long time to develop, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything.
- This is why it is important that you protect yourself now.
Asbestos can cause the following fatal and serious diseases:
Mesothelioma is a cancer which affects the lining of the lungs (pleura) and the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract (peritoneum). It is almost exclusively related to asbestos exposure and by the time it is diagnosed, it is almost always fatal.
Asbestos-related lung cancer
Asbestos-related lung cancer is the same as (looks the same as) lung cancer caused by smoking and other causes. It is estimated that there is around one lung cancer for every mesothelioma death.
Asbestosis is a serious scarring condition of the lung that normally occurs after heavy exposure to asbestos over many years. This condition can cause progressive shortness of breath, and in severe cases can be fatal.
Pleural thickening is generally a problem that happens after heavy asbestos exposure. The lining of the lung (pleura) thickens and swells. If this gets worse, the lung itself can be squeezed, and can cause shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest.