Asbestos is a very dangerous material that was banned from use in the UK in 1999. And while most people are aware of the risks posed by asbestos, there are some interesting facts that very few people realise. Here are five things that you didn’t know about asbestos.

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There are six different forms of asbestos

While we might think of asbestos as a single material, it’s actually a general term for six minerals. All of those six materials have similar properties, being heat resistant, strong and chemically inert which means they are ideal for a huge variety of uses in construction and building work.

In the UK you are most likely to encounter white asbestos (chrysotile), brown asbestos (amosite) and blue asbestos (crocidolite) – the others (tremolite, actinolite and anthophyllite) are much rarer and generally have not been used commercially. It should be noted that all forms of asbestos have been shown to be damaging to human health.

Asbestos causes a range of medical conditions

If asbestos fibres are inhaled into the lungs they can pose a huge risk to health. Asbestos fibres are the primary cause for a range of different but similar medical conditions including mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the lungs), asbestosis, non-malignant pleural disease and asbestos-induced lung cancer. In the UK, thousands of deaths every year are attributed primarily to asbestos.

These conditions are often undetected for decades

One of the most dangerous aspects of asbestos is that despite the serious nature of the illnesses it can bring on, symptoms typically don’t present for between 20 and 50 years. This means those who have been exposed won’t really know anything about it until it’s too late to do something about it. It should be noted that exposure to asbestos does not guarantee that you will develop a medical condition, it just increases the risk for you.

Asbestos is still being mined

Amazingly, despite the well-known dangers surrounding the substance, asbestos is still mined and used today. While it is banned in the UK and many other countries, nations including Russia, China and Brazil still have huge asbestos mining operations producing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of the material.

It has had some strange uses

We think of asbestos as an insulating material, but over the years it has found a number of uses you might not expect. Back in the 1930s some manufacturers of toothpaste utilised the fibres of asbestos for their abrasive qualities and cigarette filter papers also once contained asbestos. It was even used as fake snow, and can be seen falling on Dorothy, Lion and Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.