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What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name given to a group of minerals that occur naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers and can be separated into thin, durable threads.  These fibers are resistant to heat, fire, chemicals and do not conduct electricity.  For these reasons, asbestos has been widely used in many industries.

There are two subgroups of asbestos: chrysotile, which has curly fibers and is in the serpentine family of minerals: and amphibole, which has straight, needle-like fibers and includes actinolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, crocidolite and amosite.  Chrysoltile asbestos is the form that has been used predominantly in commercial applications worldwide.

People may be exposed to asbestos in their homes, their workplace or their communities.  If products containing asbestos are disturbed, tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air.  When asbestos fibers are breathed in they may get trapped in the lungs and remain there for a long time.  Over time, these fibers can accumulate and cause scarring and inflammation, which can affect breathing and lead to serious health problems, such as increased risk of developing lung cancer.


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