What is Asbestos
Asbestos is a rock mined from the earth - ‘asbestos’ is a generic term for a group of fibrous mineral silicates formed over millions of years crystallised under the influence of volcanic eruption.
The types of commercially exploited asbestos include:
- Chrysotile – white asbestos
- Amosite – brown asbestos
- Crocidolite – blue asbestos
Asbestos is a commercial term rather than a scientific or geological one.
The main properties of asbestos include:
- Use as a binding agent
- Resistance to high temperatures (Over 3000°C to destroy the fibres)
- Resistance to electrical current
- Resistance to acids and alkalis
- Absorbs sound
Where does asbestos come from?
Asbestos deposits can be found throughout the world with the main commercial mines in South Africa, South America, Canada, Europe, Australia, although most came from Russia (world’s largest producer).
Asbestos is extracted using mainly open cast mining techniques – the asbestos generally forms veins in rock, sometimes only a few centimetres in thickness. The rock is mined and then crushed, processed and refined into a wool-like fibrous mass.
How much asbestos is in the UK?
Since 1900 over six million tonnes of asbestos has been imported into the UK. The importation of asbestos peaked in 1973 when over 195,000 tonnes was imported into the UK.
Where is asbestos found?
Asbestos can be found in:
- Roofline soffits and exterior walls, roofing felt, roofline guttering and tiles
- Boilers, vessels and pipe work lagging, under ground pipes
- Ceiling boards, textured coatings (Artex), paints
- Interior walls and panels
- Floor tiles and other floor covering materials
- Fire protection to structural steelwork and sprayed cement coatings
- Air handling systems
- Domestic appliances like boilers
- Plus a range of products including fire blankets and water tanks
- Resin products such as toilet cisterns
- Bitumen products and many more products
In 1997 is was thought that asbestos was being used in over 3,000 products. It was also widely accepted that building workers, such as plumbers, carpenters and electricians, were among the largest high risk group.
Asbestos is made up of tiny fibres that can only be seen under a microscope, which can penetrate deep into the lung and stay there causing respiratory disease or some types of cancer.
The principal asbestos related diseases are that of:
- asbestosis (fibrosis) scarring of the lungs
- mesothelioma - a cancer of the inner lining of the chest wall or abdominal cavity, lung cancer
- diffuse pleural thickening - a non-malignant disease in which the lining of the lung (pleura) becomes scarred.