How Is Asbestos Made?
Used worldwide, asbestos was commonly used in the construction industry until the 1980s. Although it has been used for centuries, it wasn’t until relatively recently that the health hazards associated with asbestos become apparent. Despite this, asbestos continues to be produced, exported, and used in some areas of the world.
Where Does Asbestos Come From?
Asbestos is a natural material and can be found on every continent. Typically, it’s present in rock and soil deposits, which means companies must mine land in order to access and retrieve it. There are six different types of asbestos – chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite – although they are routinely categorised as either amphibole or serpentine. All varieties are found naturally and can be removed from the earth via mining.
How Is Asbestos Extracted?
As asbestos fibres are formed in the cracks of rock formations, miners must remove them from the surrounding rock so that they can be brought to the surface. When removed, the fibres are still connected to particles of rock, which results in ore being produced. Typically, the ore that’s brought to the surface of a mine only contains around 10% asbestos.
In order to transform the asbestos fibres into a usable material, they must be separated from the ore. Dry milling is the most commonly used technique to separate asbestos fibres from rock and relies on the crushing of the stone and the vacuum removal of the fibres.
How Is Asbestos Used?
Once asbestos fibres have been successfully extracted and separated, they are graded according to their length and quality. This determines how they can be used commercially and what their value is.
Following this, asbestos can be mixed with other materials to enhance its commercial application. It is routinely mixed with cement to produce roofing slates and sheets, for example, or mixed with silicate and pressed to create insulation boards. Additionally, asbestos was routinely used to strengthen decorative features on the walls and ceilings of properties in the UK.
Is Asbestos Still Produced?
Yes. Asbestos is still mined and manufactured around the world, although most countries have banned or regulated its use. In the UK, all forms have asbestos have been banned since 1999, although a significant number of buildings still contain some type of asbestos. Due to this, it’s important to test materials that are likely to contain asbestos, so that they can be removed professionally and safely.