What are the 6 Main Types of Asbestos and how were they used?

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Asbestos is a collection of naturally occurring silicate minerals extensively used in construction, shipbuilding, and other industries from the 1950s until the 1980s. There are 6 main types of asbestos, which can be categorised into the Serpentine and Amphibole families.

The six types of asbestos have been exploited for their useful properties of flexibility, high tensile strength, incombustibility, low thermal conductivity, and resistance to chemical attack.

The fibres of Serpentine asbestos are softer and more flexible when compared with the Amphibole asbestos family, whose fibres are hard and brittle. This makes them more difficult to expel from the lungs if inhaled. All 6 main types of asbestos pose a serious health risk, however, and can cause chronic and life-shortening disease.

6 main types of asbestos

6 main types of asbestos

1.     Chrysotile Asbestos (White asbestos)

Chrysotile asbestos was the most commonly used form of asbestos worldwide and is the only member of the Serpentine family. This type of asbestos accounts for as much as 90% of commercial asbestos used worldwide. Chrysotile asbestos is white in colour and appears curly long and wavey. Its soft flexible fibres mean it was typically used in roofing material such as corrugated asbestos sheeting, and textiles including fire blankets and safety clothing.

The motor industry also used chrysotile asbestos in brake linings, clutches, and gaskets. Manufacturers making boiler liners seals gaskets and also insulation for pipes & piping and appliances. Chrysotile asbestos was also used within residential properties being present in decorative coatings, toilet cisterns and floor coverings to name just a few.

2.     Amosite Asbestos (Brown asbestos)

Amosite asbestos is the trade name for grunerite, a mineral mined mainly in South Africa. Its strength and considerable heat resistance made it a popular component for insulating materials. As part of the Amphibole family, it’s brittle and easily broken.

It features thin needle-like needle fibres which can be easily inhaled when disturbed. In insulation and ceilings, the type of asbestos is light brown and straight in appearance and is called often brown asbestos. Amosite asbestos was heavily used to make ceiling tiles, fire brakes, wall cladding, soffits and door linings.

The UK was the biggest user of Amosite asbestos in the world.

3.     Crocidolite Asbestos (Blue asbestos)

Crocidolite asbestos is widely regarded as the most hazardous due to its ‘friability,’ or propensity to crumble when disturbed. Again, it’s part of the Amphibole family, with extremely thin and brittle fibres. Crocidolite asbestos was widely used in cement products, spray coatings, pipe insulation, and even a filter for cigarettes.

Unlike Chrysotile asbestos, Amosite asbestos, and Crocidolite asbestos, the following three types of asbestos weren’t widely used on a commercial basis.

4.     Anthophyllite Asbestos

Anthophyllite asbestos fibres are very brittle in nature, but unlike other members of the Amphibole Asbestos family, have low tensile strength. Anthophyllite asbestos fibres have a yellow hue. The formed material consists primarily of magnesium and iron. It has long, needle-like fibres which can be inhaled easily. It wasn’t widely used in industry, but can be found in some products including vermiculite, talcum powder, and composite flooring.  Sometimes Anthophyllite asbestos has been found in some cement- and insulation products. It is rarer than other types of asbestos and isn’t used much in consumer goods.

5.     Tremolite Asbestos

Tremolite asbestos is white to dark green in colour. It is long, sharp fibres. Tremolite asbestos was only mined in small quantities but may be a component of certain asbestos products such as asbestos cement sheets, asbestos loft insulation, chalks and ceramics, as well as asbestos-containing fire doors and gaskets.

Tests of the vermiculite and talc have sometimes shown trace amounts of tremolites. For example testers at Claire’s cosmetics store discovered that they had tested with asbestos. This sparked concerns since the products of this brand were marketed by children. Tremolites contaminated the vermiculite-mining operations in Libby Montana leading to widespread exposure.

6.     Actinolite Asbestos

Actinolite asbestos is darker-coloured than other commonly found asbestos fibres. It has long, sharp fibres that are easy to breathe. The asbestos has iron magnesium calcium and silicon. Although actinolite asbestos wasn’t used commercially in its own right, this mineral can be found in several asbestos products including loft insulation, sealants, and asbestos fireproofing materials. As such Actinmolite asbestos is less commonly present within buildings and in products.

Is all asbestos dangerous?

Asbestos is a category 1 human carcinogen. Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause several fatal or serious respiratory conditions. All 6 main types of asbestos pose a risk to health if the fibres are inhaled or ingested. Asbestos-related diseases can take 15–60 years to develop. The danger with asbestos materials is that they start to degrade over time, and if disturbed, the asbestos fibres are easily released into the air.

Asbestos exposure can lead to lung cancer, mesothelioma, pleural disease and asbestosis.

It’s very difficult for the body to expel them at this point, which has led to a current annual mortality rate of more than 5,000 due to asbestos diseases, including mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer.¹

Asbestos kills more people in the UK than any other single work-related source.

If you would like more information on the 6 main types of asbestos and where you might encounter them, please contact one of our specialist consultants at Acorn Analytical Services. We’re a UK wide asbestos consultancy, offering a full range of asbestos services including asbestos awareness training, asbestos surveys, asbestos testing, and asbestos removal.

Neil Munro

I work in a dual role at Acorn Analytical Services focused primarily on growing and leading the business from our Northampton office base. My focus is on overseeing all sales, marketing and financial activities from Northampton. I assist clients with high-level asbestos management strategies and training. Together with Ian Stone I host our weekly podcast – Asbestos Knowledge Empire and I'm Co-author of Asbestos The Dark Arts and Fear and Loathing of Health and Safety.

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