What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that once was lauded for its versatility recognized for its heat resistance, tensile strength and insulating properties protects against corrosion. Such properties make it an ideal material for use in a number of products, including insulation material for buildings,boilers and pipes, sprayed coating/lagging,insulating boards,asbestos cement, ropes, cloth, car brakes and clutches, ceiling and floor tiles,coated metal, textured paints and reinforced plastic amongst others. It was woven into fabric, and mixed with cement.

If you own, occupy, manage or have responsibilities for non-domestic premises which may contain asbestos, or if you are responsible for the non-private, i.e. common parts of domestic premises like hall and lift areas in flats, you will either have a legal duty to manage the risk from this material; or aduty to co-operate with whoever manages that risk.

Types of Asbestos

Asbestos can be divided into two basic groups, serpentine and amphibole, which differ in their physical characteristics. Serpentine asbestos develops in a layered or tiered form, whereas amphibole asbestos has a chain-like structure.

There are six types of asbestos minerals that occur naturally within the Earth's environment.

Chrysotile : Chrysotile is one of the most common forms of asbestos found within our Earth. This type of asbestos accounts for approximately 90 percent of commercially-used asbestos in the world. Chrysotile asbestos fibers are long, white, and curly.

Amosite : Amosite asbestos is recognized by its straight fibers and yellow to dark brown colour. Amosite asbestos contains iron and magnesium, and was most used within different types of insulation products. Amosite is the second most used type of asbestos in the United States.

Crocidolite : Crocidolite takes the form of blue, straight fibers. It is a sodium iron magnesium silicate,and is considered to be the most dangerous type of asbestos due to its physical properties.

Tremolite : Tremolite was not mined or used commercially on its own, but could often be found contaminating other minerals, such as chrysotile,vermiculite and talc.

Anthophyllite : Like tremolite asbestos, anthophyllite minerals were not sought out for their commercial use, but instead found their way into products made with vermiculite and talc

Actinolite : Actinolite fibre appears greenish in colour. Like tremolite and anthophyllite, actinolite asbestos is often found as a contaminate within different commercial asbestos products.

While these six types of asbestos have physical and chemical differences, they are all known carcinogens proven to be hazardous to human health.

Asbestos diseases

Breathing in air containing asbestos fibres can lead to asbestos-related diseases, mainly cancers of the lungs and chest lining. Asbestos is only a risk to health if asbestos fibres are released into the air and breathed in. Past exposure to asbestos currently kills around 4000 people a year in Great Britain.

Asbestos can cause:


A cancer which affects the lining of the lungs (pleura) and the lining surrounding the lower diges

Asbestos-related lung cancer

Asbestos-related lung cancer is the same as (looks the same as) lung cancer caused by smoking and other causes.


Asbestosis is a serious scarring condition of the lung that normally occurs after heavy exposure to asbestos over many years. This condition can cause progressive shortness of breath, and in severe cases can be fatal.

Pleural thickening

Pleural thickening is generally a problem that happens after heavy asbestos exposure. The lining of the lung (pleura) thickens and swells. If this gets worse, the lung itself can be squeezed, and can cause shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest.

I think I may have asbestos in my home. What should I do?

Do not try to repair or remove any asbestos materials yourself if you have not had any training for non-licensed asbestos work. You can seek advice from an environmental health officer at your local authority/council.

If you are sure (or strongly suspect) that your home contains asbestos materials then it is often best to leave them where they are – especially if they are in good condition and unlikely to get damaged.You should check the condition of the materials from time to time to make sure they haven't been damaged or started to deteriorate.

Slightly damaged asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) can sometimes be repaired by sealing or enclosing them. However, you should only attempt to do this if you have had the necessary training. Any badly-damaged asbestos material that is likely to become further damaged should be removed if it cannot be protected. Some materials (sprayed asbestos coatings asbestos lagging / insulation or asbestos insulating board) should only be removed by a contractor licensed by HSE. Your local environmental health officer can provide advice on this.

If you are planning any DIY home improvements, repairs or maintenance – and intend to bring in any additional builders, maintenance workers or contractors – you should inform them of any asbestos materials in your home before they start work. This will help reduce the risks of any ACMs being disturbed. HSE strongly encourages the use of trained professionals to repair or remove ACMs.

In addition, please be aware that ACMs need to be legally disposed of as hazardous waste. This should not be mixed with normal household waste. You may be able to arrange to have it collected or there may be special facilities in your area you can use to dispose of it.