Different Types and Appearances of Asbestos

Our blog this month features an article by Tim Povtak at the Mesothelioma Centre, regarding the different types of asbestos.

Different Types and Appearances of Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that once was lauded for its strength and heat resistance. It was versatile enough to be mixed with cement, woven into fabric and utilized with hundreds of different products.

It made everything better — or so we thought.

Unfortunately, it was also highly toxic, turning from miraculous to menacing as it aged. The inhalation or ingestion of microscopic asbestos fibres could lead to serious health issues, including mesothelioma a deadly disease with a poor cancer prognosis.

And while no amount of any asbestos exposure is considered safe, not all asbestos is created equal. They come in different fibre types with different names, yet all are considered dangerous.

Asbestos has been banned in more than 50 countries. Although the use of asbestos has dropped significantly in recent decades — once the dangers became so clear — the threat of exposure remains today because of past use.

The real danger has moved from those making the asbestos products to those utilizing the products still in existence. And there are plenty.

The types of asbestos and products you may encounter include:


Chrysotile was the most commonly used form of asbestos for many years. Chrysotile, at its peak, accounted for an estimated 90 percent of asbestos used commercially. It is commonly referred to as white asbestos. Naturally occurring deposits of chrysotile often were mixed with traces of tremolite asbestos, which is considered even more toxic. Products and places where it still may be found include:

  • Roofs
  • Walls
  • Cement
  • Automobile brake linings
  • Insulation
  • Joint compound
  • Gaskets


Amosite asbestos creates the highest risk of cancer among all the different types of asbestos, according to some experts. Amosite, in its natural state, is known as the mineral grunerite. Most of it was mined in different parts of Africa. Its fibres are needle-like. It also is known as brown asbestos. Products and places it still may be found include:

  • Electrical insulation
  • Chemical insulation
  • Cement sheets
  • Tiles in both roofs and floors
  • Plumbing insulation
  • Roofing products
  • Gaskets and lagging


Crocidolite asbestos is also known as blue asbestos and is mined primarily in Bolivia, South Africa and Australia. Crocidolite-containing products are more brittle than other asbestos products and are more readily dangerous because they break down quicker. It was once commonly used to insulate steam engines. Products and places it still may be found include:

  • Spray-on insulation
  • Cement sheets
  • Commercial ovens and steam pipes
  • Acid storage battery casings
  • Electrical and telecommunication wires
  • Ceiling tiles


Tremolite asbestos can be green, white or grey. It is rarely mined on its own but is often found in chrysotile asbestos or in other minerals such as talc or vermiculite. When these minerals are used for industrial purposes, exposure to asbestos becomes a concern. Products and places it still may be found include:

  • Roofing materials
  • Paints
  • Sealants
  • Plumbing materials
  • Insulation


Anthophylite asbestos is one of the less dangerous and most rare forms of asbestos, according to studies. It was mined primarily in Finland and is a grey-brown colour. It was rarely used alone commercially but was found as a contaminant in other minerals.  Places and products where it still may be found include:

  • Composite flooring
  • Talcum powder


Actinolite was never used alone in commercial products but is found as a contaminant in other asbestos products. It is not as flexible as other types of asbestos and has a harsh texture. It is dark in colour. It was commonly found and used with vermiculite as an effective, lightweight insulator. Products and places where it still may be found include:

  • Structural fire-proofing
  • Gardening supplies
  • Drywall
  • Sealants
  • Joint compounds
  • Paints

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