What is Asbestos?

What does asbestos look like?

Asbestos is a material often used in buildings. Before its dangers were known, it was widely used for insulation and sprayed coatings on ceilings and walls. It later became clear that asbestos fibres can cause serious damage to the lungs. This happens when people breathe in asbestos dust.

  • Asbestos is now banned in the UK
  • Buildings constructed before the year 2000 may still have asbestos in them
  • Asbestos is the name given to a number of naturally occurring fibrous silicate minerals
  • Asbestos had been a popular building material since the 1950s
  • There are over 3000 products containing asbestos

It's important to understand the types of asbestos and the potential risks involved

Three common types of Asbestos are:

Brown or grey, straight Amosite fibres made of iron and magnesium

Blue, a member of the amphibole group. It has straight fibres made of sodium iron magnesium silicate.

A white curly fibre, most products are made of this type of asbestos. It is a magnesium silicate.


It is not possible to identify the type of asbestos by the colour as it is often incorporated with other materials. The only way to know for sure whether a product contains asbestos is to have it tested. In the UK the marketing, supply and new use of brown and blue asbestos was prohibited in 1985 and white asbestos in 1999. When asbestos containing materials are damaged or deteriorate with age they can release fibres into the air. These fibres when breathed in can penetrate deep into the lungs, where they remain, causing possible damage to lung tissue. The greater risk to health arises when asbestos is damaged or the material is drilled, sawn, scrubbed or sanded. If you suspect that a material might contain asbestos do not carry out work on it but seek expert advice as any DIY work can cause high, short term exposure to asbestos fibres. There are three main conditions associated with exposure to asbestos: asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.