What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is the name given to a group of fibrous silicate minerals that can potentially cause lung disease if inhaled. It is a mineral fibre that exists naturally in the ground in various parts of Australia and the world.
Asbestos is the name applied to a group of six different fibrous minerals (amosite, chrysotile, crocidolite, and the fibrous varieties of tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite) that occur naturally in the environment. Non asbestos (non fibrous) forms of tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite also are found naturally.
The most common mineral types are white (chrysotile), blue (crocidolite) or brown (amosite). Asbestos can be found naturally in soil and rocks in some areas for example in Australia blue asbestos was found and mined at Wittenoom W.A. and white asbestos at Woodsreef N.S.W.
Asbestos fibres are resistant to heat and most chemicals and have a great deal of tensile strength. Because of these properties, asbestos fibres have been mined for use in a wide range of man-made products, mostly in building materials, friction products, and heat-resistant materials.
Therefore asbestos containing materials can be found almost anywhere. Asbestos fibres do not evaporate into air or dissolve in water. Small fibres and fibre-containing particles may remain suspended in the air for a long time and be carried long distances by wind or water currents before settling. Therefore a building which has had a large amount of asbestos in it and had removal carried out may still contain dangerous amounts of asbestos carried by internal air movement.
Friable Asbestos is material which, when dry, can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to powder by hand pressure; or as a result of a work process, may become such that it can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to powder by hand pressure.
In indoor air, the concentration of asbestos depends on whether asbestos was used for insulation, ceiling or wall linings, or other purposes, and whether these asbestos-containing materials are in good condition or are deteriorated and easily crumbled (known as its friability)
Bonded and non-friable Asbestos is a fibre-cement product. The asbestos is firmly embedded in a hardened cement matrix. The bonded sheets are flat, corrugated or circular tubes.
Asbestos cement products, also called ‘fibro’ and ‘AC sheeting’, are most commonly found in household building materials and are generally located in the walls and ceilings of wet areas. For example, bathroom, laundry, kitchen, sunroom, patio, porch. You can also find asbestos in vinyl floor tiles, backing board of linoleum floor coverings, external eaves, gutters, drains, garages, sheds, around hot water pipes, imitation brick cladding, heater flues, roofs and even carpet underlay. In some cases it was also used in insulated electric wiring, some stoves and hot water systems and light fittings as well as mill boards a the back and sides of electrical switch boards.
Asbestos can also be found in the brakes, clutches and gaskets of many older cars. For a list of products that may contain asbestos, go to Appendix C of the Worksafe Victoria Compliance Code ‘Removing Asbestos in workplaces’ Edition 1, September 2008 or click on the link
The majority of people know asbestos is a very dangerous substance, but many do not understand what it is or why the mineral is bad for the body. Understanding asbestos is important because the illnesses associated with the substance can cause serious medical problems and even death.
Asbestosis, mesothelioma, pleural plaques and lung cancer are the recognised diseases caused by asbestos and are all as a result of inhalation of asbestos fibres. Other diseases and cancers may also be caused or linked to asbestos but still require further investigation.