Asbestos is a collection of naturally occurring 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 fibres of Serpentine asbestos are softer and more flexible when compared with the Amphibole 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 risk to health, however, and can cause chronic and life-shortening disease.
6 main types of asbestos
1. Chrysotile (white asbestos)
Chrysotile was the most commonly used form of asbestos worldwide and is the only member of the Serpentine family. Its soft flexible fibres means 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.
2. Amosite (brown asbestos)
Amosite 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, and is considered the second most dangerous of the 6 main types of asbestos.
3. Crocidolite (blue asbestos)
Crocidolite 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 was widely used in cement products, spray coatings, and pipe insulation, and even as a filter for cigarettes.
Unlike chrysotile, amosite, and crocidolite, the following three types of asbestos weren’t widely used on a commercial basis.
Anthophyllite fibres are very brittle in nature, but unlike other members of the Amphibole family, have a low tensile strength. It wasn’t widely used in industry, but can be found in some products including vermiculite, talcum powder, and composite flooring.
Tremolite was only mined in small quantities but may be a component of certain asbestos products such as asbestos cement sheets, loft insulation, chalks and ceramics, as well as fire doors and gaskets.
Although actinolite wasn’t used commercially in its own right, this mineral can be found in several asbestos products including loft insulation, sealants, and fireproofing materials.
Is all asbestos dangerous?
All 6 main types of asbestos pose a risk to health if the fibres are inhaled or ingested. The danger with asbestos materials is that over time they start to degrade, and if disturbed, the fibres are easily released into the air.
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
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.