What is the Most Dangerous Type of Asbestos?

What is the Most Dangerous Type of Asbestos?

Asbestos is a term used to describe six distinct mineral types that are fibrous in nature, meaning they can be pulled apart quite easily. The material was often used in houses and buildings as it has good heat insulation abilities, but it is now illegal to build a house with the substance inside in certain countries due to the huge health and safety risk it poses.

It is illegal in all European Union countries, Japan, Australia, and the UK, who outlawed it’s use in 1999.[1] However, in some countries it is still used today in the construction of a few consumer goods like fire blankets and automotive parts such as brakes.

Untouched asbestos is absolutely safe, but it becomes an issue when it is disrupted. Drilling or cutting into the material can disperse small fibres into the air which when inhaled, can cause significant health problems in later life. Asbestos awareness is essential for all industries that may come into contact with it.

What are the Most Dangerous Types of Asbestos?

According to Mesothelioma.Net most the dangerous varieties of asbestos substances are silicon and oxygen-based, and include amosite, chrysotile, crocidolite, tremolite, actinolite and anthophyllite. [2] They are usually associated with a particular colour, with crocidolite being blue, chrysolite being white and amosite being brown.

There are serpentine and amphibole variations. Serpentine variations, originating from serpentinite rock, have long “curly fibres made up of sheets of crystals”[3]. An example of a serpentine mineral would be chrysolite and therefore coloured white. Amphibole types, including crocidolite and the rest of the remaining five minerals, are the most commonly used form and they are found in roof insulation. This set of minerals have tiny, needle-like fibres.

You can also categorise the minerals into what Mesothelioma.Net call ‘friable’ and ‘non-friable’[4] types based on their particular properties. Non-friable kinds of fibres cannot be released easily as they are contained within a sturdy material that cannot be effortlessly crushed or broken, such as floor tiles or sheets of cement.[5] On the other hand, friable types can freely and easily release fibres because they make-up a weaker structure and are more likely to be shattered. Thermal insulation and sprayed coatings[6] are all friable.

The most dangerous types are those that are amphibole and friable, meaning items that are effortlessly crushed into a powder and emit fibres very easily. It has been found that it takes a much lesser amount of amphibole fibres than serpentine fibres inhaled into the lungs to cause serious health issues like lung cancer, due to their size and shape. The small needle-sized fibres are much more easily taken into the lungs and can damage tissue quickly due to their sharpness. Serpentine fibres are bigger, so the body will more likely recognise them as a foreign substance and deal with them quickly.

That is not to say that serpentine material is not dangerous. All types of fibre are unsafe for the human body, its just that some are more so than others. The most threatening are only needed in small doses in order to cause health issues. They are all known carcinogens[7] and cause heavy damage to the lungs, leading to mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. Symptoms may take multiple decades to develop and treatments for these conditions may be rare.

Employees in certain sectors are more likely to handle and disrupt asbestos than others, including in the construction industry. Therefore, employers are advised to draft and ensure that health and safety provisions are implemented successfully, using risk assessments to measure potential spots of danger and informing employees of them. It is the duty of the organisation to make sure that all staff members know about the potential dangers of the substance and provide them with protection equipment.

You can view our Asbestos Awareness online training course here.


[1] https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/why-asbestos-is-still-used-around-the-world/3007504.article

[2] https://mesothelioma.net/asbestos-dangers/

[3] https://www.asbestos.com/asbestos/types/

[4] https://mesothelioma.net/asbestos-dangers/

[5] https://www.highspeedtraining.co.uk/hub/friable-asbestos/

[6] https://www.highspeedtraining.co.uk/hub/friable-asbestos/

[7] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/mesothelioma/