What is Asbestos? Types & Your Risk When Exposed

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Asbestos is a naturally occurring product that has a fluffy, light consistency. The fibres of asbestos are soft and bendy but are resistant to corrosion, electricity and heat. This means that asbestos is particularly useful, but highly toxic and very dangerous when exposed.

Asbestos has been commonly used as an effective insulator, and in cloth, paper, cement, plastic and other products and materials to make them stronger. However, when someone is exposed to asbestos and breathes in asbestos dust, it can become trapped in their lungs and body for the rest of their lives, damaging their health.

Eventually the asbestos trapped in someone’s body can cause inflammation, scarring and damage to the body’s cells. Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that is almost always caused by the exposure of asbestos. Asbestos can also contribute to and cause the progression of lung disease and other cancers.

According to the Asbestos removal company GBAR Australia, asbestos fibres are so small that one cannot see, smell or taste asbestos. It’s incredibly dangerous to test a substance by smelling for suspected asbestos. In order to safely and correctly test asbestos products, a sample must be taken for lab testing.

Technically, asbestos is not actually a singular material but rather a group of silicate materials that share the same fibrous nature and bond together. It’s often divided up into 3 different colours or types – white asbestos (chrysotile), blue asbestos (crocidolite) and brown asbestos (amosite).

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When in reality, there are actually 6 different types that are recognised by the Environmental Protection Agency.

  1. Crocidolite
  2. Amosite
  3. Anthophyllite
  4. Tremolite
  5. Actinolite
  6. Chrysotile

Asbestos occurs naturally all over the world. It was once mined in North America;however, the main exporters of the toxic material are now Russia, China and Kazakhstan.Crushing asbestos to separate the minerals and then procession the asbestos until it has a soft and woollyconsistency, will result in raw asbestos.

Pure asbestos is made into paper, cloth, rope and felt. Asbestos fibres can also be mixed in to paints, cements, sealants, adhesives and drywall compounds. Without a manufacturing label, it can be very difficult to detect asbestos. It is not safe to test any questionable materials without sending it in to a lab to be tested.

Asbestos materials and fibres are divided into two risk categories:

  1. Friable asbestos materials are the ones that will crumble by hand and are easy to break. They are incredibly dangerous as they release toxic dust into the air and are easily inhaled. Examples include an old asbestos pipe insulation or talcum powder contaminated with asbestos.
  2. Nonfriable asbestos materials are durable. These materials keep the fibres trapped as long as the products are not disturbed – meaning if they are smashed, broken, sawn or scraped they may release the toxic fibres into the air. Examples include asbestos cement slabs and asbestos tiles made of vinyl.

Sometimes it is safest to leave the asbestos material undisturbed, and sometimes it is vital for human safety to have it removed immediately. It is best practice to leave the evaluation and removal of asbestos to a certified asbestos removal company or have it handled by professionals to ensure no one inhales the toxic material.

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