4 Things You Didn’t Know About Asbestos

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What is asbestos? Asbestos is the name given to a group of silicate minerals that are made up of microscopic fibres, taking the form of fibrous crystals.

Asbestos was historically used in the U.K in many buildings built before the year 2000.  It was regarded as an ideal material for insulation and as a general building material due to its heat and electrical resistance, strength and low cost.

But that’s not all asbestos was used for. Where else can you find it? We’ve outlined four interesting things you maybe didn’t know about asbestos…

1. There are six types of asbestos

There are six types of asbestos in the UK. There are three main types:

  • Chrysotile – the most common form of asbestos in the U.K and which is often called ‘white asbestos’. It’s been extensively used in cement sheets, gutters and flues as well as gaskets, sealants and also in some insulation products. It is classified as a serpentine mineral on account of its wavy shape. This characteristic also assists in its use in textile products.
  • Amosite – this type of asbestos, known as brown asbestos, is in the amphibole class and has long, straight fibres. It has been used frequently in board (asbestos insulating board) as well as various forms of insulation to pipes, vessels and as a sprayed insulation.
  • Crocidolite – these fibres are similar in shape to Amosite, and known as blue asbestos. Crocidolite has been used in a similar fashion as Amosite, however it is more often found in industrial premises on account of its particular resistance to chemical attack.

There are also three other types which are very occasionally found in the UK:

  • Anthophyllite
  • Tremolite
  • Actinolite

2. You could once get toothpaste and fake snow made with asbestos

Back in the 1950s, before the harmful properties of asbestos fibres were publicised, it was used as an ingredient in the “Ipana” brand of toothpaste. This was due to the abrasiveness of the fibres, which were used to whiten teeth. The brand’s advertisement is referenced in the film Grease where the toothy mascot Bucky Beaver makes an appearance.

But what other uses for asbestos were there?

During the 30s, 40s and 50s, asbestos was used during the manufacturing of fake snow, which served as a Christmas decoration. If you remember the poppy field scene in The Wizard of Oz, you’ll remember the snow that fell around Dorothy and made her fall asleep… well, that fake snow was made from 100% chrysotile asbestos. Even the Wicked Witch’s broom and the Scarecrow’s outfit featured asbestos in their composition.

3. Asbestos mining still occurs

Asbestos mining is still carried out in Russia, China and Kazakhstan. Although importing asbestos into the UK is banned, there are still several other countries in the world that have not banned it, and still import asbestos to use in construction and building products.

Since 2017, Brazil has banned the production and distribution of asbestos. There have been many global meetings surrounding asbestos as an issue, with bans and action plans outlined for combatting asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and pleural thickening.

4. We’ve been using asbestos for over 5000 years

The earliest use of asbestos dates to 2500 B.C in Finland, where its fibres were used to create strong ceramic pots and other utensils. It was also used by ancient Greeks, Persians and Romans for various products.

More recently, the manufacturing business Turner & Newall was known for its industrialisation of asbestos. It began as Turner Brothers in 1871 in Rochdale, and changed its name eight years later to Turner Brothers Asbestos Company, when they became the first business in the UK to weave asbestos cloth with machinery.  Later on, the company produced asbestos gaskets and cement sheets and at one point was a FTSE 30 company. In 1998 the business ceased trading after becoming embroiled in numerous asbestos litigation claims and went into administration in 2001.


So, there you have it – four things you may or may not already know about asbestos. Although we’ve now come to recognise the harmful properties of asbestos, it’s clear it was a popular material to work with in many industries in eras gone by. To this day, we are still uncovering asbestos which can be potentially harmful.

But how can we manage it?

Our specialist asbestos consultants offer a wide range of asbestos management services, ranging from surveys, training, sample analysis and air monitoring. If you’d like to find out more about how our experts could help you, or aren’t sure where to start when looking for a consultant, find out more in our Guide To Appointing A Reliable Asbestos Consultant.

You’ll discover more about:

  • What to look for when appointing an asbestos consultant
  • The services that you should be able to access
  • Contractual certainty and surveying specifics

Plus much, much more.

Pennington Choices Guide to Appointing Asbestos Consultants

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