Types of Asbestos: Understanding the Different Forms of this Hazardous Material

March 28, 2022

Sebastian Tiller

Asbestos was a popular building material in Australia from the 1940s to the late 1980s due to its ability to resist fire. It was used in a variety of products, including flat and corrugated sheeting, cement pipes, insulation, floor tiles, adhesives, roofing, automobile parts, textiles, and textured paints. However, due to its harmful health effects, asbestos-containing products were phased out in the 1980s, and a national ban was implemented in 2003.

Despite the ban, asbestos remains a concern for many Australians, as it can still be found in older buildings and products. Asbestos exposure can lead to serious health issues, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. It is important for individuals and businesses to take precautions when working with or around asbestos-containing materials.

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What are the different types of asbestos?

Asbestos is a term that defines multiple types of minerals. Typically, multiple forms of asbestos can be found in various parts of a workplace building. While these types differ in colour, texture, and appearance, they share many of the same properties, including the same adverse health effects.

Chrysotile (White Asbestos)

The most commonly used form of asbestos was chrysotile. In homes and businesses, it can typically be found in roofs, ceilings, walls, and floors. Chrysotile asbestos was also used in automobile brake linings, gaskets, boiler seals, and insulation for pipes, ducts, and appliances before the asbestos ban in December of 2003 stopped its use.

In Australia, alternative types of construction materials to chrysotile have been in place since prior to 1999. This use includes in major industries covering the building and construction, automotive, and railways sectors.

Amosite (Brown Asbestos)

Amosite was one of the most frequently used types of asbestos in cement sheets and pipe insulation. It can also be found in insulating boards, ceiling tiles, and thermal insulation products. Like chrysotile, amosite fibres made effective fillers for other materials.

This way, the fibres can be bound in and the finished product can benefit from the amosite qualities. This was common practice for a lot of asbestos-cement products in construction. Other amosite asbestos containing products included:

  • Fire Protection
  • Gaskets
  • Insulation
  • Cement Sheets
  • Roofing Materials
  • Vinyl Tiles

Crocidolite (Blue Asbestos)

Crocidolite was commonly used to insulate steam engines. It was also used in some spray-on coatings, pipe insulation, plastics, and cement products. It is considered the most dangerous type of asbestos, as its straight needle-like fibres (unlike the curly ended fibres of chrysotile) make it easier to inhale.

While the mineral was the third most used asbestos type in Australia, crocidolite is responsible for more asbestos exposure-related deaths than any other type. It was withdrawn from use much earlier than other types of asbestos.


Anthophyllite was used in limited quantities for insulation products and construction materials. However, anthophyllite was mostly not mined with the intention of being used for manufacturing, instead being accidentally discovered in other materials.

It mainly occurs as a contaminant in chrysotile asbestos, vermiculite, and talc (which is used in products such as chalk, crayon, paint, rubber, cosmetics, and ceramics). It may have a grey, dull green, or white colour. Asbestos-contaminated talc has recently been identified within crayon and cosmetic production.

Tremolite and Actinolite

Tremolite and Actinolite were types of asbestos that were never used commercially. Instead of appearing in construction materials and whatnot, these types of asbestos were discovered as contaminants in chrysotile asbestos, vermiculite, and talc.

Both of these types of asbestos share many similar characteristics, such as the shape of their fibres, as well as their brown, white, green, grey, or transparent hues. The difference between these two forms of asbestos comes down to their chemical composition. Tremolite has a greater presence of magnesium over iron, whereas Actinolite has a greater presence of iron over magnesium.

Unknown Mineral Fibres (UMF)

Depending on the NATA or IANZ accredited laboratory used, results may fall into the Unknown Mineral Fibres or UMF category. Where Unknown Mineral Fibres (UMF) is reported, it is important that confirmation of the fibres’ identity is sought by another independent analytical technique. Where confirmation is not attained, the material should be treated as asbestos-containing.

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What are the two mineral families of asbestos?

Serpentine Asbestos

Serpentine asbestos is characterised by its curly fibres. Chrysotile asbestos is the only type of asbestos that belongs to this category. Despite being more difficult to inhale than amphibole asbestos, chrysotile asbestos is still dangerous and should be avoided.

Amphibole Asbestos

The remaining five types of asbestos (tremolite, amosite, crocidolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite) fall into the amphibole category. Amphibole asbestos fibres are thin, short, stiff, and needle-like, making them easier to inhale than serpentine asbestos. Exposure to amphibole types of asbestos can cause cancer in less time than serpentine asbestos.

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What are the two asbestos material groups?

Asbestos can be classified into two material groups: bonded (non-friable) and friable (loosely bound). This classification helps determine the best approach for isolating and containing materials suspected to contain asbestos.

Bonded (Non Friable)

Bonded asbestos, also known as non-friable asbestos, refers to asbestos fibres that are held within a solid matrix, such as cement in asbestos cement sheeting. These fibres are less likely to become airborne unless the product is damaged or has deteriorated. Examples of non-friable asbestos products include asbestos fences, roofs, vinyl floor tiles, and asbestos cement sheeting.

Friable (Loosely Bound)

Friable asbestos products contain loosely packed asbestos fibres that can be easily crushed by hand. Examples of friable asbestos products include asbestos rope, insulation, pipe lagging, and fire blankets. It is important to note that non-friable materials may become friable over time as the bonding agents holding the asbestos fibres in place deteriorate.

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Is all asbestos dangerous?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been used in building materials for decades. It is important to note that not all asbestos is dangerous, and the presence of asbestos in building materials generally does not pose a health risk unless the material is broken, deteriorating or disturbed in such a way that airborne asbestos fibres are produced.

Why is asbestos dangerous?

When workers handle asbestos-containing materials in an unsafe manner, fibres can be released into the air. These fibres can be inhaled easily and are near impossible to detect. When inhaled, these fibres become trapped deep in your lungs, which causes extensive damage over long periods of time. This damage is in the form of debilitating respiratory diseases.

What health conditions can exposure to asbestos cause?

Asbestos exposure has been linked to a range of diseases including pleural plaques, asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Most people who develop asbestos-related diseases have worked on jobs where they frequently breathed in large amounts of asbestos fibres, resulting in a build-up of asbestos fibres in the lungs. It is important to adhere to stringent protocol when managing asbestos to avoid exposure to these diseases.

How can I make the process of asbestos management as efficient and effective as possible?

To ensure that asbestos management is as efficient and effective as possible, it is important to have qualified professionals handle materials that could potentially contain asbestos. Asbestos management software solutions such as Octfolio simplify the complex process of asbestos management. Octfolio provides every function required to successfully handle all aspects of asbestos management, such as asset management, report management, document management, maintenance management, digital asbestos register, field data collection, automated reporting, workflow automation, and asbestos mapping software. With Octfolio, you can have full control over the asbestos management of your business.

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Sebastian Tiller

Seb has a long history of delivering elegant solutions to complex business problems that conform to the most exacting compliance standards. He prides himself on his ability to connect with customers and humanise software solutions to be understandable and useful to all parties. He’s also enjoys playing story-based single player games and spending time with his young family, building LEGO, attending recitals, and experiencing new restaurants with his wife.

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