What is Asbestos? Get the Key Facts
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is the name given to several naturally occurring silicate minerals which are fibrous.
These minerals have been heavily utilised and exploited for their seemingly “magical” properties. Asbestos fibres have great flexibility, high tensile strength, incombustibility, low thermal conductivity, and resistance to chemical attack.
There are 6 types of asbestos; 3 most commonly used and 3 less commercially used.
The six types of asbestos fall into two categories of fibre type: Serpentine (curly, wavy fibres) and Amphibole (needle like fibres).
Chrysotile (White) asbestos is the only one composed of the serpentine fibre type. The other five types of asbestos are all amphiboles.
3 Most Commonly Used Types of Asbestos
3 Less Commonly Used Types of Asbestos
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Why was asbestos used?
Asbestos was extensively used because of its unique properties. These properties include
Incredible Heat Resistance - Asbestos has an incredible resistance to heat. It does not burn or melt until it gets to an extremely high temperature, somewhere around 1,500°C. That’s more than plaster, more than fibreglass and even more than steel.
Ultimate Insulator - It is an excellent insulator and does not easily allow heat, electricity, light or sound to pass through it.
Super Strong - Asbestos is super strong and has a tensile strength that surpasses steel.
Insoluble in water - Asbestos is insoluble in water, which means it can’t be dissolved in water.
Immense Chemical Resistance - Asbestos can resist the destructive effects of powerful acids and alkalines.
Tasteless - Asbestos has no detectable aroma or taste.
Flexible - Asbestos is flexible, meaning it can bend easily without breaking. It can be spun and woven to make items like textiles, ropes and woven products.
However, the over-riding factor which lead to the high use of asbestos was cost – asbestos was cheap.
*Information supplied by Asbestos The Dart Arts
Why is asbestos hazardous?
Asbestos is a hazard because of a unique process. Asbestos strands can be split into smaller and thinner fibres during disturbance.
Asbestos mined ore will initially divide into visible strands, fibre bundles, and individual fibres. This splitting can continue on to minute levels of microscopic size. This process is unique to asbestos and is why airborne asbestos is such a problem.
Asbestos fibres can become so small that they remain airborne longer and pass undetected by the respiratory dust defences. These microscopic fibres may become inhaled into the lungs.
Once in the lungs, because of their properties such as chemical resistance, asbestos fibres are also resistant to the human body’s natural defence mechanisms.
As such, asbestos fibres remain within the body and may cause significant health problem
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