What is asbestos?


What asbestos looks like

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that are composed of microscopic fibres. These fibres are broken down to produce asbestos containing materials (ACM’s).

Mined in many countries such as Canada, Russia, Brazil, South Africa and China, asbestos fibres were (still is one some countries) woven into fabrics or mixed into products and used all around the world.

Asbestos was predominantly used as a building material in the UK between the 1950s and 1980s. It was used as insulation, fire protection, sound proofing, water proofing and chemical resistance.

Its only when these asbestos containing materials are damaged or disturbed those asbestos fibres can be released into the atmosphere and potentially breathed into your lungs.

What are the Different Types of Asbestos?

The asbestos refers to six minerals belonging to two mineral families, serpentine and amphibole. All forms of asbestos are highly hazardous, and exposure can lead to the development of many diseases.

The three main types of asbestos that you may come across whilst carrying out building work are:

Chrysotile (White asbestos)

Chrysotile is the most commonly used type of asbestos. Chrysotile fibres are usually fine in texture, the material is flexible, water proof and good heat resistant properties, making it ideal for use in cement, linings and external roofing materials. Commonly found on your garage roofs and floor tiles.

Amosite (Brown asbestos)

Mined mostly in Africa, Amosite is a particularly strong and heat-resistant type of asbestos that was commonly used in cement sheet, plumbing insulations (ie pipe and boiler lagging) and insulating boards. Though all types of asbestos are hazardous, Amosite asbestos exposure has a comparatively higher cancer risk due to the fibres.

Crocidolite (Blue asbestos)

Crocidolite has very thin fibres and, if inhaled, are easily lodged in the lungs. It’s thin fibres and brittle nature make Crocidolite one of the most harmful forms of asbestos, as it easily breaks down and leads to asbestos exposure.

Crocidolite was mainly mined in south Africa and exported abroad as a raw material.

Amosite and crocidolite are no longer being mined although some probably is still being sold from the years of left over stock.

Tremolite, Actinolite and Anthophyllite

There are three minor types of asbestos that you may hear about. Tremolite, Actinolite and Anthophyllite have never been sold commercially. Instead, they were often found as contaminants in commercially sold asbestos products. It’s rare to find them in products in the uk however they do crop up from time to time on our asbestos surveys.

What is the danger?

Asbestos is a ‘‘hidden killer’’ that can cause four serious diseases

  • mesothelioma
  • asbestos-related lung cancer
  • asbestosis
  • pleural thickening

These diseases will not affect your health immediately. They often take years to develop but once diagnosed its often too late.


Mesothelioma is a cancer which affects the lungs lining. It is almost exclusively related to asbestos exposure and by the time it is diagnosed, typically is fatal within months.

Asbestos-related lung cancer

Asbestos-related lung cancer is the same as lung cancer caused by smoking and other causes.


Asbestosis is a serious scarring condition of the lung that normally occurs after heavy exposure to asbestos over many years. This condition can cause progressive shortness of breath, and in severe cases can be fatal. 

Pleural thickening 

Pleural thickening is generally a problem that happens after heavy asbestos exposure. The lining of the lung thickens and swells. If this gets worse, the lung itself can be squeezed, and can cause shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest.

Where us asbestos found?

Asbestos could be present in any building that was built or refurbished before the year 2000. It is in many common building materials. These can be found here

How Can I Tell If Asbestos is Present?

The short answer is you can’t tell by sight, smell or colour. Asbestos is a fibrous material that comes in many shapes and forms. The fibres are incredibly small (Around 10 times smaller than the width of a human hair)

The only way to identify asbestos is to have it tested or an asbestos survey report carried out here at complete asbestos surveys we can do that for you.

Contact us here if you have any questions.


Q: What are the health risks associated with asbestos exposure, and how does it lead to diseases like mesothelioma and lung cancer?

A: Asbestos exposure can lead to several serious diseases, including mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, asbestosis, and pleural thickening. Mesothelioma is a cancer affecting the lining of the lungs, primarily caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos-related lung cancer shares similarities with lung cancer caused by smoking and other factors. Asbestosis is a scarring condition of the lungs resulting from prolonged asbestos exposure. Pleural thickening occurs when the lining of the lung thickens and swells due to heavy asbestos exposure.

Q: Where is asbestos commonly found in buildings, and how can individuals identify its presence?

A: Asbestos could be present in any building constructed or renovated before the year 2000. It is commonly found in various building materials such as insulation, cement sheets, plumbing insulation, and roofing materials. However, it cannot be identified by sight, smell, or color. Asbestos fibers are microscopic and can be present in different shapes and forms. The only reliable way to identify asbestos is through testing or an asbestos survey conducted by professionals.

Q: What measures can be taken to mitigate the risks of asbestos exposure during building renovations or demolitions?

A: When renovating or demolishing a building that may contain asbestos, it is crucial to take appropriate precautions to prevent exposure. This includes conducting a thorough asbestos survey beforehand to identify any asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), using trained professionals to handle and remove asbestos safely, following proper containment and removal procedures, and ensuring proper disposal of asbestos waste in accordance with regulations. Additionally, workers should use personal protective equipment (PPE) and follow strict safety protocols to minimize the risk of inhaling asbestos fibers.

Further Reading

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