Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous silicate mineral which has been mined and processed. It has been widely used in a variety of building and household products due to its unique properties, which include: high tensile strength, thermal stability and resistance to chemicals and electricity.
There are three main types of asbestos which have been used commercially.
- Crocidolite (often referred to as ‘blue asbestos’)
- Amosite (often referred to as ‘brown asbestos’)
- Chrysotile (often referred to as ‘white asbestos’)
Other forms of asbestos are also found but are much less common – fibrous actinolite, fibrous anthrophyllite and fibrous tremolite.
The wide use of asbestos products led to the import of some 6 million tonnes of asbestos materials into the UK since 1880. However, once the risks to health were determined, controls were gradually introduced and the import of all asbestos is now banned in the UK, with a very few limited exceptions.
It is impossible to avoid exposure to asbestos completely. There is a very low background level of fibres in the atmosphere due to the extensive use of the material. There is no evidence to suggest that exposure to such low levels is detrimental to health. High concentrations of asbestos fibres can be generated during structural alterations, major refurbishment, minor repairs and DIY activity. It is therefore essential to recognised those products which contain asbestos in order prevent unnecessary disturbances.
Remember – If in doubt, do not disturb any material which you are unsure of.