What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fibre belonging to the following two groups:

  • Serpentine Group
    • chrysotile (white asbestos)
  • Amphibole Group
    • actinolite
    • amosite (brown and grey asbestos)
    • anthophyllite
    • crocidolite (blue asbestos)
    • tremolite

Asbestos has excellent fire resistance, insulation properties, fibre strength, durability and flexibility. As a result, asbestos was used extensively in manufacturing of products used in the construction and manufacturing industries between the 1940s and 1980s.

Asbestos containing material is classified into two categories, friable asbestos and non-friable asbestos.

Friable asbestos means material containing asbestos that can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to a powder by hand pressure when dry.

Non-friable asbestos means material containing asbestos that is not friable, including material containing asbestos fibres reinforced with a bonding component such as cement.

Non-friable asbestos material may become friable if it is crumbling, or damaged by breaking, cutting, drilling or sanding.

Asbestos is a known carcinogen and inhalation of these fibres can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis after a long latency period. As a result, the manufacture and use of asbestos products was banned nationally from 31 December 2003. To support the nationwide ban, the import of asbestos containing products into Australia is prohibited under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations.