What is asbestos

Have you ever heard of asbestos? Do you know what it is? Why is it harmful to health?

Although it has been valued for its resistance to heat, fire and chemicals, asbestos is also known for the serious risks it poses to human health. In this publication, we will talk about the characteristics of asbestos, the different types and how to identify it, as well as where it can be found.
Asbestos characteristics
Asbestos is resistant to heat, fire and chemicals, making it an attractive material for industrial applications. Plus, it’s tough and durable, making it ideal for use on a variety of products. In addition, it is invisible, odorless, colorless and tasteless. It can remain suspended in the air or water and move from there to here.

However, inhaling these fibers can cause serious respiratory diseases, such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. For this reason, the use of asbestos has been restricted and prohibited in many countries, and its handling is strictly regulated to prevent exposure and protect the health of workers and the general public.

Asbestos is one of the most powerful carcinogens known. It is estimated that the risk of workers exposed to asbestos suffering from lung cancer is up to 6 times more frequent than in the general population, but if we add the effects of other carcinogens to the effects of asbestos, the probability of suffering from it increases exponentially.
Other ways to call asbestos
Asbestos is also known as asbestos. Depending on its shape and color, it can be called different names, such as chrysotile (yellow or white), amosite (brown), crocidolite (blue), and others.
What are asbestos fibers
Asbestos fibers, also known as asbestos fibers, are mineral components belonging to the group of amphiboles. They are made up of thin crystalline threads that cannot be seen, tasted or smelled with the naked eye.

They are known for their durability and strength, including their ability to resist fire and acids. Due to these properties, they have been widely used to strengthen fiber cement.

Asbestos fibers have a radius of less than 3 micrometers and a length that exceeds 5 micrometers.

It is essential to be careful with these fibers because, if handled without adequate protection, they can be inhaled and settle in the lungs. This can lead to serious diseases such as cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, depending on the severity of the exposure.
Differences between friable and unreliable asbestos
The key differences between friable and non-friable asbestos center on their ability to release fibers and the danger they pose to human health.

Friable asbestos is found in powder form or can be easily crumbled by hand, releasing fibers into the air. This type of asbestos is more dangerous to health, since the fibers can be easily inhaled.

On the other hand, non-friable asbestos is bonded to other materials and is less likely to release fibers into the air, thus reducing risks. To release fibers, direct manipulation of tools or machines is necessary. Although less dangerous than friable asbestos, non-friable asbestos can still pose a risk if it decomposes or is handled incorrectly, releasing fibers into the environment.

It is important to approach both types of asbestos with caution and, in the event of renovations or demolitions involving materials that could contain asbestos, appropriate safety measures should be taken, such as hiring professionals certified in the safe handling and removal of asbestos to prevent exposure to fibers and protect public health.
Types of asbestos
Asbestos comes in several types, the most common being chrysolite, amosite, crocidolite, actinolite, anthophyllite and tremolite. Each type has specific characteristics and the type of asbestos present in any material must be correctly identified, as the differences between these types are important to assess the health risk and determine appropriate measures for its safe handling and removal.

In Spain, the type of asbestos most commonly used in roofs and other construction materials is chrysotile, also known as white asbestos. Chrysotile represents approximately 90% of all asbestos used in our country. Its fibers are fine, curved, flexible, silky, easily separable, spinning and weaving, resistant to heat, but not to acids.

Regarding its marketing and use, since crocidolite is the most toxic variety, it was the first to suffer restrictions due to its high danger to health, its use being prohibited in the order of October 31, 1984 approving the Regulations on work with asbestos risk.

Type of Asbestos

– Chrysotile (White)
– It is the most common and used.
– Flexible and curl-shaped fibers.
– Coming mainly from Canada, Russia and China.
– Often used in construction products such as shingles, tiles and fiber cement products.

– Crocidolite (Brown)
– Amosite (Brown) – Straighter and more rigid fibers than chrysotile.
– Commonly used in insulation products and in some construction applications.

– Crocidolite (Blue)
– Very fine and straight fibers.
– Considered the most dangerous due to its ability to lodge in lung tissue.
– Used in some insulation products and cement.

– Anthophyllite
– It is rare and less used than other types of asbestos.
– It has flexible fibers and is generally gray to green in color.

– Tremolite
– Often found in deposits along with chrysotile.
– It was not used commercially on its own, but could be present in some products containing asbestos.

– Actinolite
– Similar to tremolite in properties and occurrence.
– It was not widely used in commercial products, but could be present in some products containing asbestos.

Identifying the type of asbestos may require laboratory analysis, as differences with the naked eye can be difficult to discern. Specialists can carry out tests to determine the type of asbestos present, which is crucial for safe handling.
Where to find asbestos
Asbestos has been used in construction and can be found in many different areas, including water pipes, heating systems, roofs, wall coverings, flooring, insulation, car brakes and more. However, although it can appear in these different places, 90% of asbestos is found in roofs.
Places in Spanish geography where asbestos is found
Asbestos has been used extensively throughout Spain and, as such, is not limited to a specific region. However, if you are referring to specific places where asbestos was mined or had a particularly strong industrial presence, there are some areas that can be highlighted:

Mines: Although Spain was not a leading producer of asbestos worldwide, there were mines in certain regions. For example, in the province of Córdoba, in towns such as Belmez and Espiel, asbestos was extracted. These mining areas could have a higher risk of residual environmental contamination due to asbestos mining.
Industrial areas with historical presence: Some industrial areas, particularly in the most industrialized regions such as Catalonia, the Basque Country, and Madrid, had factories that produced or used products with asbestos. These areas may have had greater exposure historically, although production and use has since ceased.
Neighborhoods or residential areas: There are neighborhoods or areas in various cities where homes were built with roofs made of uralite (a brand that used to contain asbestos) or other asbestos-containing materials. These zones could be scattered throughout the country, depending on the time of construction and the materials used at that time.

It is important to emphasize that the presence of asbestos does not necessarily mean an immediate risk to public health. Asbestos is dangerous when it deteriorates or is handled, releasing fibers into the air that can be inhaled. Despite the extensive use of asbestos in the past, many structures and materials containing it are still in good condition and do not represent an immediate risk.

In any case, if anyone has specific concerns about the presence of asbestos in a certain location, it is essential to turn to local authorities or asbestos removal experts for information and guidance.

In Spain, specific areas with the presence of asbestos have been identified, and it is essential to have certified professionals for its detection and safe removal.