The different types of asbestos
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From the 1950’s to the 1980’s, there was rarely a building constructed without the use of asbestos.
It was seen as the ideal material as it dealt effectively with heat and noise insulation as well as being odourless, insoluble, durable and also fire resistant. The material was used in a variety of things, including walls, boiler insulation and ceiling tiles.
When the material was being used, workers had no idea of how deadly it could be and the effects that it could have on their future health.
It also didn’t help that during the years when asbestos was popular, health and safety regulations weren’t as big or as important as they are today, so there would have been next to no precautions in place to protect workers from being exposed.
Asbestos generally refers to a group of minerals which are made up of fibres. The three most common types are chrysotile, crocidolite and amosite.
If an individual is exposed to these fibres and inhales them, it can lead to lung cancer, malignant mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Chrysotile is commonly known as white asbestos and was the most popular type of asbestos used. Today, chrysotile will most likely be found in old buildings.
It is the only asbestos type which belongs to the serpentine group, which means that its fibres are curly rather than straight. Because of this, chrysotile is much more flexible than other types of asbestos, making it easy to mould to be used as corrugated roof tiles or to insulate pipes.
Chrysotile is considered to be the most deadly out of the different types of asbestos due to the fact that it was widely used in the UK and US for decades and the number of deaths arising from it is staggering.
Crocidolite asbestos was less commonly used in the UK and is mainly found in Australia, South Africa and Bolivia. The fibres have a blue colour when viewed under a microscope, hence it often gets called the ‘blue asbestos’.
A popular use for crocidolite was to make cement as it has the best heat resistance out of all asbestos fibres, thus making it ideal for construction work in countries with extreme temperatures and where there are risks of wild fires.
It is estimated that 20% of those who worked with crocidolite have lost their lives due to inhaling the fibres.
Amosite is often referred to as brown asbestos and it is made up of white and grey vitreous fibres. It originated in South Africa and was widely used in pipe insulation and in the construction of cement sheets. Insulation boards, ceiling tiles and thermal insulation are also popular uses for amosite due to its flame retardant properties.
This type of asbestos was hugely popular in the 1980’s and along with crocidolite, is seen as an extremely hazardous material.
Seeing how popular asbestos was and how widely it was used, it is little wonder that so many people have suffered health issues years later, with a large percentage of these losing their lives.
The first recorded death relating to asbestos was in 1906, and the first UK death was 1924. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their live due to asbestos exposure and it’s highly likely that the figure will continue to rise.