There are many forms of asbestos - common among these are blue asbestos (crocidolite), white (chrysotile) and brown or grey asbestos (amosite). Other forms of asbestos include anthophyllite which was used mainly in Finland. However tremolite, said to be part of the amphibole asbestos group was used in some commercial talcs in small quantities and is also a contaminant of other asbestos types e.g. chrysotile (white asbestos).
The three most common types of asbestos that were mainly used in a wide range of products are Chrysotile (white asbestos) Crocidolite (blue asbestos) and Amosite (brown or grey asbestos).
Until the late 1960's, the Australian industry used both serpentine (75%) and amphibole (25%) asbestos. Subsequently, the use the chrysotile increased to approximately 95% while blue and grey asbestos declined to 5%. Asbestos is one of the most useful and versatile minerals known to man mainly because of its unique properties, flexibility, tensile strength, insulation (from heat and electricity) and chemical inertness. It is the only natural mineral that can be spun and woven like cotton or wool into useful fibres and fabrics.
More than 3000 asbestos products and their uses have been identified. Most Australian homes contain asbestos products in one form or another. Asbestos products have been used in thousands of commercial and private buildings in Australia. Some other uses of asbestos include fencing, asbestos pipes, thermal insulation, fire proofing, as an additive in paints and sealants, in textiles such as felts and theatre curtains, in gaskets, and in friction products like brake linings and clutches.
During the peak building years i.e. 1950's, 1960's and 1970's, asbestos found its way into most public buildings, for example hospitals, schools, libraries, office blocks and factories. Workplaces such as ships' engine rooms and power station were heavily insulated with sprayed limpet asbestos.