Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that poses significant health risks when airborne. There are three main types of asbestos that have been used commercially in Australia: crocidolite, amosite and chrysotile. Let’s take a look at each of them and how they were commonly used.
Chrysotile is also called white asbestos and has “curly” fibres. This allows it to be woven, which means it was used often in applications like fire-resistant fuse linings, fire-resistant clothing and building sheeting.
Sadly, chryostile was originally considered to be less of a health concern than other forms of asbestos, which meant it continued to be used in building materials in Australia until the mid 1980s. Nowadays, all asbestos is treated equally as there have been studies showing that mesothelioma can also be caused from exposure to white asbestos.
Countries like India, Taiwan and China continue to use chryostile in manufacturing.
Amosite is also called grey or brown asbestos, and has straight, harsh dark-coloured fibres. Amosite was often used in situations where additional strength was required, like high temperature pipe insulation, or additional fire resistance was necessary, like building sheeting. This is why defence department buildings, including aircraft hangars and defence force housing, and high-set type houses, small multi-storey buildings and congregational buildings (such as churches and halls) often have amosite sheeting as ceiling and/or wall lining.
Crocidolite is also called blue asbestos and is considered to be the most hazardous form of asbestos. It has straight, blue fibres that are extremely fine. Blue asbestos was used in situations were acid resistance was required. It was also commonly used for fire rating of steel structural beams, older cement sheeting, particularly roof and ceiling sheets, and in pipes.
Most building products manufactured in Australia were no longer asbestos containing by 1991, although a complete ban wasn’t introduced until 2003.