How Many Common Types of Asbestos Were Available?

Most people are familiar with the term ‘asbestos’, but few people realise that there are actually many different types of the mineral. In the UK, six types of asbestos were commonly used prior to the 1980s – chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite. However, chrysotile, also known as ‘white asbestos’, was the most common.

What Are Serpentine and Amphibole Asbestos?

Amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite are referred to as amphibole asbestos, while chrysotile is classified as a member of the serpentine asbestos family. The distinction between serpentine and amphibole asbestos depends on the type of fibres present in the mineral or material.

Serpentine asbestos (chrysotile) features softer, curly fibres, while amphibole asbestos consists or short, sharp fibres, which are capable of puncturing body tissue, such as the lungs. Due to their formation, amphibole asbestos fibres, such as crocidolite, are also difficult to breathe out, which means they are particularly dangerous.

How Was Asbestos Used?

Both amphibole and serpentine asbestos was used in the UK until the 1980s. In fact, chrysotile, or white asbestos, wasn’t banned in the UK until 1999. Due to this, asbestos was routinely used in cement, lagging, insulation boards, textured coatings and sprayed directly onto and into buildings due to its insulating properties and high level of heat resistance.

Is Asbestos Still Available?

Yes. Asbestos is still mined and manufactured around the world, although many countries have now banned it or regulated its use. In the UK, all types of asbestos have been banned and it can no longer be used to construct or maintain buildings (or for any other purpose).

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However, banning asbestos in the UK didn’t mean that it had to be removed from buildings, as only the ‘new use’ of asbestos was regulated. As a result, a significant number of homes and workplaces still contain high levels of asbestos. When left in situ, it’s thought that asbestos doesn’t pose a major health risk. If it is disturbed, however, it can be extremely dangerous.

Should Asbestos Be Removed?

Many homeowners prefer to remove asbestos, even though it shouldn’t cause health issues if it is left in place. When removing any type of asbestos, however, it’s essential that strict safety measures are taken. Only professionals with the appropriate experience and certification should attempt to remove asbestos and personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used throughout the process. Make sure you use a licenced contractor to remove it.