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24th October, 2018

Asbestos Types And Colours Explained

When you hear people talk about the types of asbestos, you will often hear them referred to by colour, like blue asbestos or white asbestos. Despite the names, you can't actually identify asbestos by colour - unless you are looking at the fibres under a microscope!

There are three main types of asbestos that were used in the UK prior to a ban on all use of asbestos in 1999. These three type of asbestos are:

  • Chrysotile
  • Amosite
  • Crocidolite

Asbestos was an extremely popular and widely used material in the construction industry, because it was cheap, in good supply, strong and insulating. It was simple to use, but not so simple to say. As you can see asbestos names are a bit of a mouthful, so the different types of asbestos are often referred to by colour:

  • White Asbestos (Chrysotile)
  • Brown Asbestos (Amosite)
  • Blue Asbestos (Crocidolite)

Unfortunately, while the properties of asbestos made it a dream building product, that dream soon became a nightmare when the health effects of asbestos started to catch up with those using it.

Asbestos is still killing thousands of people in the UK each year, figures are currently estimated at around 5,000, considerably higher than the number of people killed in all work-related accidents combined.

Because asbestos was used so heavily in the past, asbestos can be found in thousands of buildings and is still a very real health threat despite being banned nearly 20 years ago.

While you are not going to be choosing between the different types of asbestos, it is still important to know about them. When you have an asbestos survey carried out for a construction project, or for the occupation and management of a building, it will tell you what type of asbestos is present.

You might have all three in different areas or just one type, and the action needed will be impacted on what type of asbestos is found.

1. Chrysotile (White)

Chrysotile asbestos is also known as white asbestos. It was the last asbestos type to be banned in the UK, finally banned in 1999.

Chrysotile asbestos was the most commonly used type of asbestos and so can be found in many building products from textured coatings like artex to cement products, floor tiles, roofing and even toilet seats.

White asbestos is less deadly than blue and brown asbestos, but it is still a hazardous material. All types of asbestos can lead to serious and fatal diseases such as mesothelioma (a deadly asbestos cancer of the lungs) and asbestos-related lung cancer, and asbestosis.

asbestos related deaths chart

2. Amosite (Brown)

Amosite asbestos is also known as brown asbestos. It was banned in the UK in 1985, along with crocidolite (blue) asbestos.

Amosite asbestos fibres have a higher risk compared to chrysotile (white) asbestos, which is why it was banned over 10 years earlier. Sprayed coatings, lagging and insulating board are more likely to contain blue or brown asbestos.

3. Crocidolite (Blue)

Crocidolite asbestos is also known as blue asbestos. It was banned in the UK in 1985, along with amosite (brown) asbestos.

Crocidolite fibres are extremely thin, making it the most deadly type of asbestos if disturbed. This is because the fibres will remain in the air longer, and once inhaled can easily slip through your respiratory system and hook into your lungs and chest lining where they do their damage.

asbestos fibres tiny

Asbestos colours

A final word on asbestos colours. When talking about asbestos, you will often hear the different types of asbestos referred to by their colours. For example, most workers will know that blue asbestos is the most dangerous.

But, despite their names (blue, brown and white asbestos), you can't identify them just by their colour. In fact, you can't actually see asbestos fibres, they are so small.

So, to be sure, you will need an asbestos survey to identify if a material contains asbestos, and what type of asbestos it is.

Other asbestos types

And just a quick mention of other asbestos types. We have only mentioned the main 3 asbestos types in this article for a reason, these are the only 3 you are likely to see on an asbestos survey.

There are some other asbestos types (anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite), but they were never used commercially in the UK. These types of asbestos were only usually found as contaminants in other materials, rather than being specifically used. They don't have their own colour classifications.

Remember, all asbestos is dangerous. No type or colour of asbestos is safe. Use the free asbestos awareness toolbox talk to stay refreshed.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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