About Asbestos

Learn About Asbestos

Use of asbestos has significantly decreased over time both in Australia and many other countries across the world. The topic of asbestos still exists because it is naturally occurring and also, the fact that some countries still use it. Asbestos has also healthy implication and hence it should be handled with care. Therefore, here is an intensive discussion about asbestos that would help you, not only to completely know about it but to also know how to fully handle it.

This important topic will be discussed in an organized manner as follows:

  • Definition of asbestos
  • History of asbestos in Australia
  • Types of asbestos
  • Health dangers of asbestos
  • Australian asbestos licensing information. In respect to friable and non-friable asbestos
  • Asbestos removal procedures
  • finally, the conclusion.


Definition of asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral silicate with fibers that can be woven into fabrics. The mineral has very good fire-resistance properties which made it popular in industrial and construction industry as an insulating material. Asbestos was recognized as the most versatile material due to its unique properties which include; its flexibility, being unreactive with other chemicals and equally important, its high tensile strength. Additionally, the material was also cheap and easy to mine


History of asbestos in Australia

Asbestos has been in existence for a very long time. It only became popular during the industrial age because of its good fire resistance properties. Asbestos occurs naturally in the earth’s crust.

Australia had the highest use of asbestos per head in the world between the years the 1950s – 1980s. Mining of asbestos in Australia began in Wittenoom in Western Australia in the 1940s. During this time, about 200,000 tons of asbestos were mined. The Wittenoom mines were eventually closed down in the year 1966. In 1967, the use of blue asbestos was banned in Australia. Use of brown asbestos was abandoned in the 1980s. A subsequent ban on white asbestos followed in 2003. The banning was as a result of the research conducted by the Australian government that showed that asbestos was carcinogenic. For instance, it caused lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Besides Wittenoom mine, asbestos was also mined in large scale in New south wales at woodstreet close to Barraba.


Types of asbestos

There are 6 distinct types of asbestos. They are classified into this six groups according to their chemical composition. This are;

1 Chrysotile

This is popularly known as the white asbestos. In fact, it is the most widely used type throughout the world. It forms about 90 percent of all asbestos.

It has long curled fiber that is very desirable during the normal day industrial activities that is why it was the most commonly used type of asbestos. Chrysotile is not as toxic as other types of asbestos but it is not safe either.

2 Amosite

This has relatively short fibers than chrysotile. In industrial terms, people call it brown or grey asbestos. This is more toxic as compared to chrysotile. This is due to its short fiber being easily turned into dust that can be airborne hence it can be easily inhaled.

3 Crocidolite

This is simply called blue asbestos. It is considered as the most toxic type. This is because it has very thin fibers that can easily prick through into human skin. Therefore this type was not popular with people.

4 Tremolite

This is usually mined together with chrysotile. This type is also found in limited quantities in talcum powder. Tremolite was hardly used in industries.

5 Actinolite

This is usually dark in color. When used together with vermiculite, it was used as a heat insulator. This was very important in both construction and manufacturing industry as it was used as a component of paint during manufacture. The most pronounced problem about this type of asbestos comes from the fact that it can be inhaled. This causes damage and failure to the lungs

6 Anthophyllite asbestos

This is very rare and hence rarely used too. Mostly, it occurs with other deposits of asbestos. In some occasions, anthophyllite are found in vermiculites


Health dangers of asbestos

This happens when asbestos fibers are pulverized and thus, can be inhaled or when the fibers are very thin to penetrate someone’s skin. Despite having the desired industrial properties, asbestos use is limited due to its negative health implications. They are as result of exposure by inhaling or exposure by contact.

Exposure to asbestos has the following health effects

-It causes asbestosis. This comes about when the asbestos fibers are inhaled. While in the body, it reduces the capacity of the lungs which eventually leads to failure of the respiratory system which might lead to death in the long run. Asbestos also causes mesothelioma and lung cancer. When inhaled, asbestos accumulates in the lower part of the lungs, and since it is carcinogenic, it causes lung cancer. Enlargement of the heart and high blood pressure are also key health implication of exposure to asbestos. This is as result of resistance to the smooth flow of blood in the lungs which eventually lead to high blood pressure and as a result, the heart enlarges in order to be able to pump blood at that pressure.

These health conditions are the root cause of ban of asbestos in Australia. Australia also took the initiative of licensing people to handle asbestos to ensure very safe, and professional handling to avoid the causalities that come with exposure to asbestos.


Australian Asbestos License Information

Since some other countries have not fully abandoned the use of asbestos. It might be found in some products. There are also some traces of asbestos in many places. Australia government having banned use of asbestos in 2003, has strict rules and guidelines to the handling of asbestos. As a result, it gives license to qualified people to handle asbestos.

In relation to licensing, asbestos is classified into friable and non-friable asbestos according to their ability to be detached from the component containing it.

Friable asbestos

This is usually found on surfaces or it has been used to make surfaces. It is also used in the manufacture of cloth, furniture, and even roofing materials. Therefore, humans are likely to get exposed to this type while doing their daily routine work. The government of Australia only allows licensed removers with up to date asbestos license to handle friable asbestos.

Nonfriable Asbestos

This is usually contained as a component of other materials. It cannot be easily pulverized into powder. It cannot be removed from the component by a bare hand. It is very common in roof tiles, floor tiles, and cement tiles. The fear of non-friable asbestos being transformed into friable asbestos in the long ran warrants its removal. This should also be done by licensed removers.

When one suspects the presence of asbestos, licensed assessors and inspectors are called and the sample tested in NATA laboratories. If found positive, licensed removers are called to eliminate it.


Asbestos removal procedure

The procedures of removal of asbestos materials are classified into Friable asbestos removal procedures and Non-friable asbestos removal procedures.

Non-Friable asbestos removal procedures

  1. Manually dismantling method. This where the asbestos is removed as a whole and not broken into parts.
  2. Remotely Dismantling – if there is a likelihood of exposure in manual dismantling, remote dismantling is applied and then the place is constantly washed with water.
  3. Remove floors, gaskets and cement pipes from the base and ensure that there are no breakages.

Removal of friable asbestos

  1. Removal of sprayed coating and lagging.
  2. Puncture the surface and carefully wash the surface.
  3. Removal of boards
  4. Use shadow vacuum cleaning
  5. Use soaking method for thick materials containing asbestos
  6. Use spraying method for asbestos that is not covered. Apply water and ensure the surface is completely wet.



The use of asbestos should be adequately managed. People should follow the government procedures for detection and removal of asbestos to avoid risks that come with exposure to asbestos. Always use a licensed remover to get rid of both friable and non-friable asbestos. This about of health and therefore everyone should take a personal initiative to ensure the health and well-being of each and every person are safe and not at stake. Fill free to visit out page for all the update and queries you have about asbestos