Knowing The Different Types of Asbestos

3 Oct 2018

Asbestos is the generic name for a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals with an elongated fibrous shape. Once known as the "miracle mineral" asbestos was widely used in residential and commercial products due to its many useful properties, including its durability, tensile strength, and resistance to heat. Today, asbestos is considered a hazardous material that can cause mesothelioma (a cancer that affects the lungs), and other lung illnesses. Knowing how to identify the different types of asbestos can help you determine where asbestos can be located, what the risks are, and also offer protection through an effective asbestos management plan.

The six different types of asbestos
Asbestos can be classified into two mineral groups: serpentines and amphiboles. Serpentine fibres are found in the form of a crystaline sheet silicate which produces scroll like fibres that are generally curly and flexible. Amphibole fibres are found in the form of a crystaline chain silicate which produces fibres that are generally needle like and brittle. Both are odourless, tasteless, and cannot be easily detected by the naked eye. Exposure to these asbestos types can lead to pleural mesothelioma and other illnesses.

Serpentine minerals
Chrysotile (white asbestos)
Chrysotile is the only member of the serpentine family, and exhibits as characteristic curly white fluffy or crimped, flexible fibre bundle. It’s the most commonly used form of asbestos in the manufacture of building material. Chrysotile has been mined widely throughout the world, including the Woodsreef mine in New South Wales, which closed down in 1983. Chrysoltie is still mined, and legal for use in manufacturing in many countries including Russia, China and Zimbabwe. Prized for its strength, versatility, and heat-resistant properties, it was commonly used in cement sheeting and pipes, vinyl tiles and vinyl sheet backing, electrical insulation and rope or woven materials. Areas that are prone to moisture, like bathrooms and kitchens, are highly likely to contain white asbestos.

Amphibole minerals
Amosite (brown asbestos)
Amosite was first mined in South Africa and is actually an acronym for ‘Asbestos Mines of South Africa’. Amosite is generally observed as needle like brown, grey or even dull white fibre bundles. Amosite was used in asbestos cement sheeting and pipes, in addition, due to its excellent thermal insulation and heat resistance properties, it was commonly used in pipe and vessel insulation material, low density insulation board, and loose fill or spray on insulation (sometimes referred to as asbestos limpet or flock).

Crocidolite (blue asbestos)
Crocidolite is found in the form of straight needle like blue or blue grey fibre bundles. Crocidolite was mined in Bolivia, South Africa and the Wittenoom mine in Western Australia, which was once one of the major producers of crocidolite until the closure of the mine in 1966. Due to the large amount of crocidolite available within Australia it was used more widely in production than many other countries and can commonly be found in cement sheets and pipes, and loose fill or spray on insulation.

Tremolite, Anthophyllite and Actinolite
Unlike with the above listed commercial forms of asbestos, tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite were never selectively mined and rarely intended to be used in manufacture of products. Traces of these fibre types were generally extracted during the mining of other minerals and have occasionally and unintentionally been introduced into manufacture as a contaminant. These minerals are commonly found at trace levels within talc and vermiculite deposits.

Talc is used in numerous products including chalk, crayon, paint, rubber, cosmetics and ceramics. Asbestos contaminated talc has recently been identified within crayon and cosmetic production.

Vermiculite is commonly used for insulation and packaging, however much of the vermiculite mined and used in the United States of America has been identified to be contaminated with tremolite asbestos.

All asbestos is potentially hazardous to health. Many asbestos containing materials are still present in Australian homes and buildings built in the last century. To find out if your property has asbestos, reach out to the experts at Identifibre. We conduct asbestos inspection and testing in Melbourne. Our licensed professionals can determine which type of asbestos you're dealing, where they're located, and how to handle them. Give us a call at (03) 9563 2957 or you can email us at contact@identifibre.com.au.

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