Many of us have heard of asbestos and understand that it is an extremely dangerous material that can cause various respiratory diseases. Yet, very few of us actually know what asbestos is and where it comes from.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material that actually consists of six main minerals. The fibres are long, thin and can be easily separated from one another, meaning that they can easily become airborne, which is when they can be inhaled and cause damage to the lungs and other inner organs.

The minerals that make up asbestos have certain properties that make them perfect for use in construction (heat resistance, chemical resistance, strong and flexible). There are several countries in which asbestos minerals have been excavated, including China, Canada, USA and Russia and derives from metamorphic rocks.

The word ‘asbestos’ derives from Latin and can be translated as ‘not extinguishable’. The minerals are generally found underground and the most common method of obtaining it is by open-pit mining. Of the mined ores, only 6% contains usable fibres. Through repeated suction and crushing, the useful fibres can be separated form the ore. The remaining fibres can then be moulded or woven into various types of fabric.

There are two main classes of asbestos, the amphiboles and the serpentines. Chrysotile, from the serpentine class, accounts for 95% of the world’s supply of asbestos.