You could be forgiven for assuming that asbestos was a thing of the past due to its damaging history, eventually leading to a UK wide ban in 1999. However, the truth is that asbestos is still present in UK buildings, with approximately 1.5 million of these being the homes we live in!
Scary thought? Well it can be – as asbestos was banned due to its harmful potential, leading to thousands of deaths in the UK alone, but how likely are you to spot asbestos if you came into contact with it?
We’ve spoken about the risks of asbestos exposure before, and today we’re going to take a look at what asbestos looks like, the different types out there and how to identify asbestos for yourself.
What is asbestos?
If your knowledge on asbestos is limited, then you may be wondering how something that was so popular and commonly used could be so harmful – so what exactly is asbestos?
Made up of microscopic fibres, asbestos is a term used to describe a group of six silicate minerals. Asbestos fibres are resistant to fire, heat and most chemicals, making it the perfect material for using in construction, hence its popularity.
Asbestos fibres are extremely tiny, and can easily be breathed in, but cannot be removed once within the system, which has led to a wide range of serious, life-threatening conditions developing including asbestosis which is a progressive condition.
Where is asbestos typically found?
Although asbestos has been completely banned across the UK since 1999, buildings built before the year 2000 may still have asbestos present due to its popularity in general construction.
Not only incredibly versatile and durable, asbestos was also affordable making it an incredibly popular material, and therefore used in a range of applications, including:
- Vinyl sheet flooring.
- Patching and joint compounds.
- Door gaskets.
- Ceiling tiles.
What are the different types of asbestos and where they are used for?
When it comes to spotting asbestos, things can be tricky. With six different types out there, it’s important to know what to look out for to not only identify asbestos, but also to know which kind of asbestos you’re dealing with.
There are officially six different types of asbestos, including:
So, let’s break these down a little bit into what they are, and how they were most commonly used.
This was the most commonly used type of asbestos and is also sometimes known as white asbestos due to its appearance. Because of its popularity, Chrysotile asbestos can still commonly be found, and is usually in places such as roofing, ceilings, walls and flooring in both commercial and domestic buildings. Another place Chrysotile was used was in the brake linings, pads and gaskets of vehicles.
Crocidolite asbestos was one of the first groups of the mineral to be banned here in the UK back in 1985. Also commonly known as blue asbestos due to its appearance, Crocidolite asbestos was most commonly used in the insulation of steam engines and piping, along with spray on coatings and plastics and cement products.
Alongside Crocidolite asbestos, Amosite was banned in 1985 in the UK, but prior to this it was commonly used in a range of applications. Also known as brown asbestos due to its colouring, Amosite asbestos was a popular choice for pipe insulation, cement sheets, insulating board and other thermal insulation products.
Different to the main types of asbestos, Tremolite is actually found as a contaminant in Chrysotile asbestos. Otherwise known as an amphibole, Tremolite is a fibrous mineral which has strong connections with cases of malignant mesothelioma during the 1960’s and 70’s.
Probably the least known group of asbestos, Actinolite asbestos is extremely rare, and contains concentrated levels of magnesium. Unlike many of the other types of asbestos, Actinolite asbestos can come in a range of colours, from green and blue to white or yellow, so it can be much harder to identify. Because this was only produced in much smaller quantities, it was rarely used in construction by itself, however there are plenty of products that contain high trace amounts of Actinolite. This type of asbestos was commonly incorporated into children’s toys, sealants, dry wall and asbestos concrete.
Similar to Tremolite asbestos, Anthophyllite is classified as an amphibole. Due to the miniscule form of this type of asbestos, Anthophyllite is amongst the most likely to be inhaled. Like Tremolite, this type of asbestos was most commonly found as part of other asbestos forms, with trace amounts found in products such as talc.
How asbestos is identified
As we can see from the sheer range of asbestos types, identifying them is no easy task, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with asbestos to begin with. However, it’s important in today’s society to be able to recognise and identify asbestos safely and accurately in order to prevent spread of fibres and harm. So, how is it done?
The first thing to note is that asbestos cannot always be identified purely through sight. Although you might feel confident that you’ve come across some asbestos, there is no definitive testing method other than by using polarised light microscopy alongside dispersion staining techniques.
It is not possible or advised to have direct contact with suspected asbestos and proper testing can only be done by a UKAS Accredited Laboratory.
Final thoughts on the types of asbestos
Whether you work in construction, live in an older residency or are simply seeking to learn more about asbestos, you’ve come to the right place. Especially important if you work in an industry that could come into contact with asbestos, learning all you can about how to spot asbestos, and what to do in those scenarios is important – which is why we offer an affordable asbestos awareness course that can be taken entirely online – so why not get in touch today?