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There are six types of asbestos, the three main types of asbestos commonly called 'blue' (crocidolite), 'brown' (amosite) and 'white' (chrysotile). All are dangerous, but blue and brown asbestos are known to be more hazardous than white. They cannot be identified by their colour alone .

Blue (crocidolite) Asbestos Brown (amosite) Asbestos White (chrysotile) Asbestos

The dangers of Asbestos

Breathing air containing asbestos dust can lead to asbestos-related diseases. These are mainly cancers of the chest and lungs, and they kill more people than any other single work-related cause.

Asbestos-related diseases already kill an estimated 3000 people each year in the UK. This number is expected to go on rising. It may reach almost 10,000 deaths each year.

There is usually a long delay between first exposure to asbestos dust and the diagnosis of disease. This can vary between 15-60 years. The vast majority of people now dying were exposed to asbestos during the 1950s and 1960s when the use of asbestos in the UK was at its peak.

Many of today's asbestos victims worked in building trades. They were carpenters, joiners, shop fitters, plumbers, electricians etc. They were exposed to asbestos dust in their day-to-day work with asbestos materials or because work with asbestos was carried out near them.

Where is Asbestos found in buildings?

Thousands of tonnes of asbestos were used in buildings in the past and much of it is still in place.

You are most likely to come across asbestos in these materials:

  • sprayed asbestos and asbestos loose packing - generally used as fire breaks in ceiling voids;
  • moulded or preformed sprayed coatings and lagging - generally used in thermal insulation of pipes, boilers;
  • sprayed asbestos mixed with hydrated asbestos cement - ;generally used as fire protection in ducts, firebreaks, panels, partitions, soffit boards, ceiling panels and around structural steel work;
  • insulating boards used for fire protection, thermal insulation, partitioning and ducts;
  • some ceiling tiles;
  • millboard, paper and paper products used for insulation of electrical equipment, asbestos paper has been used as a fire proof facing on wood fibre board;
  • asbestos cement products, which can be compressed into flat or corrugated sheets. Corrugated sheets are largely used as roofing and wall cladding. Other asbestos cement products include gutters, rainwater pipes and water tanks;
  • certain textured coatings.
  • Some of these materials are more vulnerable to damage and more likely to give off dust. In general the materials which contain a high percentage of asbestos are more easily damaged. Sprayed coatings, lagging and insulating board are more likely to contain blue or brown asbestos. Asbestos insulation and lagging can contain up to 85% asbestos and is the material most likely to give off dust, though careless work with asbestos insulating board can result in equally high fibre release. On the other hand asbestos cement contains only 10%-15% asbestos. The asbestos is tightly bound into the cement and the material will only give off dust if it is damaged or broken.