What are the different types of asbestos and how dangerous are they?

What are the different types of Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance found in large deposits of minerals such as talc, and vermiculite, a type of hydrated magnesium aluminium silicate hewed from open cast mines.

Experts recognise six different types of asbestos which fall into two categories: Amphibole and serpentine. 

The difference between the two types is the shape of their needles. Amphibole asbestos has needle-shaped fibres with straight, jagged edges. Serpentine fibres are curly and consist of sheets of crystals.

Scientific studies reveal that prolonged exposure to asbestos can cause chronic health problems. 

The World Health Organisation reports approximately 125 million people die a year due to asbestos exposure in the workplace. It is estimated around 107,000 people die from occupational exposure caused by airborne fibres.

Diseases that have been linked with asbestos include lung cancer, mesothelioma, ovarian cancer and laryngeal cancer, asbestosis, Pleural effusions, Pleural plaques, Pleuritis, Diffuse pleural thickening and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

In this guide, we examine the six different types of asbestos and detail the kind of commercial products they are typically found in. It is important that you are aware of the dangers of asbestos to prevent the risk of contracting an asbestos-related disease. 

The Six Types of Asbestos 

Serpentine Family: 

Chrysotile (White Asbestos)

The only serpentine asbestos is Chrysotile. However, given it is used in around 90% of commercially available products, it is also the most prevalent. 

Chrysotile fibres are white and curly. You will sometimes hear this type referred to as “white asbestos”. It is banned in 55 countries although, due to industry lobbying, is still used in many parts of the world including Russia and parts of Asia. 

Until asbestos was found to cause chronic diseases, chrysotile was a common compound mixed into building materials. 

Although white asbestos is not harmful when left undisturbed, if the fibres become airborne, they will be inhaled into the lungs. Prolonged exposure to any type of asbestos increases the risk of contracting debilitating diseases. 

Naturally occurring deposits of chrysotile often include trace amounts asbestos from the amphibole family. As a consequence, the deposits have higher toxicity. 

Because chrysotile asbestos is flexible, it was often woven into fabrics such as cloth, paper, and plastic to make them stronger. White asbestos was also used in cement. 

Many of the materials in the average home contain white asbestos – especially houses built before the mid-1980s. 

The Health and Safety Executive warn that buildings constructed or that underwent renovation works prior to 2000, will probably be an asbestos risk. 

If you are planning any refurbishment or DIY projects, seek the help of a professional asbestos remover

The type of commercial products white asbestos is found in are: 

• Roofs

• Ceilings

• Walls

• Floors

• Adhesives 

• Brake pads and linings 

• Gaskets

• Boiler Seals 

• Water pipes 

• Ducts 

• Cement 

• Drywall

• Vinyl tiles 

• Fireproofing 

Amphibole Family:

Studies indicate that exposure to amphibole asbestos increases the risk of cancer and other types of chest diseases. There are five different types of amphibole asbestos.

Crocidolite (blue asbestos)

Experts suspect that crocidolite is responsible for more asbestos-related deaths than any of its brethren. Because its fibres are minuscule, it easily lodges on to lung tissue. 

Crocidolite (blue asbestos) was the third most commonly used type of asbestos, typically found in industrial products such as: 

• Insulation for steam engines

• spray-on coatings, 

• pipe insulation, 

• plastics

• cement products

• Acid storage battery casings

• Ceiling tiles

• Fireproofing

• Insulation

• Kent 

• Micronite cigarette filters

Amosite (brown asbestos) 

Brown asbestos is another type of amphibole used in building materials that are commonly found around the home. Typical products include: 

• Cement sheets

• Pipe insulation 

• Fire protection products 

• Gaskets

• Roofing products

• Vinyl tiles 

• Ceiling tiles 

• Insulating boards

Anthophyllite 

 Anthophyllite is one of the rarest types of asbestos so is less commonly used in commercial products. However, it is as equally toxic as its amphibole brethren. 

Typical products that contain anthophyllite are: 

• Cement

• Insulation 

• Roofing

• Rubber

Tremolite and Actinolite Asbestos

 Tremolite and actinolite are not used for commercial purposes although traces can be found as contaminants in chrysotile asbestos, vermiculite and talc. They can, therefore, be found in all the products mentioned above although are much rarer than the most common types of asbestos. 

Asbestos Related Diseases

Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a long-term lung condition caused by asbestos fibres lodged in the lung tissue. It is thought this condition develops after large quantities are inhaled over a considerable length of time. 

Asbestos fibres cause scarring of the lung tissue which leads to shrinking and hardening. It can take approximately 20-30 years before symptoms emerge.

Lung cancer

Studies show that asbestos significantly increases the risk of lung cancer. It is estimated that every year a person is exposed to asbestos, the risk of contracting lung cancer increases by four per cent

 A high percentage of tradesman working in the industrial and constructions industry suffer from lung cancer together with mechanics and veterans. 

Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is asbestos-related cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs, chest or abdominal cavity. Asbestos fibres damage the pleura’s cells and cause a genetic reaction that can become cancerous. It is thought that eight in 10 people that have been diagnosed with mesothelioma have been exposed to asbestos. 

Pleural Thickening

Diffuse pleural thickening is caused by extensive scarring of the lung tissue which thickens the pleural membrane lining. Symptoms typically cause shortness of breath. Experts suspect pleural thickening increases the risk of lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Pleural Plaques

This is a non-malignant pleural disease that thickens areas of the pleura and chest lining which ossify over time. The majority of patients that are diagnosed with pleural plaques do not show obvious symptoms of a disease but some people have reported a grating sensation when they breathe. 

Asbestos Removal

Long-term exposure to any type of asbestos could result in serious damage to your health. People that live and work in residential and commercial buildings built prior to the 1990s are most at risk, particularly if you are undertaking major DIY projects or have pipes that are eroding. 

For more advice about asbestos removal contact our experts for a survey. 

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