How Asbestos is Mined and Produced

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Somah Thong

Asbestos Removal Specialist

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Did you know Australia once produced nearly half the world’s blue asbestos? This fact shows the massive role the asbestos industry played in our economy and infrastructure. Despite its popularity for being heat-resistant and durable, the health dangers of asbestos fibres have changed how we view it now.

Asbestos comes from mines, where its fibrous nature is sought after. Australia was big in mining chrysotile and amphibole types of asbestos. We’re going to look at how asbestos was taken from the earth and made into products. We’ll also talk about the health and environmental risks that led to the industry’s decline here.

Key Takeaways

  • Australia was once responsible for nearly 50% of the world’s blue asbestos production.
  • Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral, valued for its heat resistance and durability.
  • The extraction process involves significant mining operations, particularly of chrysotile and amphibole classes of asbestos.
  • Health risks associated with asbestos fibres led to a significant decline in its use and legal status in Australia.
  • Understanding the full lifecycle of asbestos from extraction to product production is crucial for appreciating both its past economic value and the health hazards it presents.

Introduction to Asbestos Mining

Asbestos mining has been crucial in many industries because of the unique features of asbestos fibres. These natural minerals are part of a group known as silicate minerals. They appear in forms that make them really useful. Their ability to resist fire and their strong nature are notable. Chrysotile, from the serpentine minerals group, and amphibole are common types.

The process of extracting these minerals from the earth is what we call mining. These fibres have been very important in history, particularly in Australia. There, they were often used in making building materials and in other fields. But it’s key to note that being around asbestos fibres too much has serious health risks.

There are two main kinds of asbestos: chrysotile and amphibole. Chrysotile is part of the serpentine minerals and has curly, bendable fibres. Amphibole asbestos, though, has kinds with fibres that are straight and sharp, which makes them really dangerous to breathe in.

In Australia, the use of these minerals was big due to their benefits for industries. Mining and processing both chrysotile and amphibole helped the economy a lot. However, the harms of asbestos, like lung issues and asbestosis, changed people’s views and led to tighter laws.

Here is a comparative analysis of the two types of asbestos:

TypeMineral GroupFibre StructureHealth Risk
ChrysotileSerpentineCurly, flexibleModerate
AmphiboleAmphiboleStraight, needle-likeHigh

This comparison shows the important differences between the asbestos types. It explains why some are seen as more dangerous. Knowing these differences is crucial when we talk about how asbestos mining has affected Australia, both in the past and now.

Historical Background of Asbestos in Australia

Australia’s history with asbestos is captivating yet heartrending. It shows how industry once depended heavily on this mineral. This reliance turned into a public health crisis. The journey began in the late 1800s with the discovery of significant asbestos deposits.

Discovery of Asbestos

The discovery of asbestos in Australia happened in the late 1800s. People found large asbestos deposits, sparking interest because of its useful properties. These included its resistance to heat and strength. Several rich asbestos locations were found, jumpstarting a major industry.

Peak Mining Periods

The asbestos industry’s busiest time was from the early 20th century to the late 1970s. Mining at Wittenoom made it a top producer of blue asbestos, or crocidolite. Wittenoom was key to Australia’s asbestos market, supplying loads of the mineral globally.

Decline in Asbestos Mining

Asbestos mining in Australia declined because of the health dangers it posed. As more proof of hazards surfaced, societal views shifted. By 2003, there was a full ban on asbestos production and use. This change was crucial for public health but the impact of past use remains.

Where Asbestos is Found

In Australia, asbestos is found in specific rocks. These are named serpentine and amphibole minerals. This made them a target for mining due to their rich asbestos fibres.

Types of Asbestos Deposits

There are mainly two kinds of asbestos. One is serpentine, which includes chrysotile. It’s quite common in certain Australian areas. The other type is amphibole, which has crocidolite and amosite but is not as common. The type of asbestos affected how it was mined and the risks for workers.

Notable Australian Locations

Some places in Australia are famous for their asbestos. Wittenoom in Western Australia is known for its crocidolite mines. Baryulgil in New South Wales also had big asbestos mines. These areas were very busy and helped the economy by meeting the demand for asbestos in products.

Asbestos Mining Methods

In Australia, we mainly use two ways to mine asbestos: digging it out from the surface or going underground. Whether we dig from the top or tunnel from below depends on how deep the asbestos is buried. We always aim to do this work safely and efficiently.

Asbestos extraction methods

Open-Pit Mining

For shallow layers of asbestos, open-pit mining is often the go-to method. This involves removing lots of soil to reveal the asbestos below. It’s a method that lets miners get directly to the asbestos, making it cheaper than digging tunnels.

Using big machines like excavators, miners can get to the asbestos quickly. Then, they use these machines to transport the asbestos for processing. It makes the whole process more efficient.

Underground Mining

When the asbestos is deep in the ground, underground mining is needed. This means digging shafts and tunnels to get to the asbestos. It’s more expensive and complicated than open-pit mining, but it’s the only way to reach deep asbestos.

Although it can reach valuable asbestos, it’s riskier for the miners. Dangers include cave-ins and breathing in asbestos fibres. That’s why there are strict safety rules to keep miners safe.

FactorOpen-Pit MiningUnderground Mining
Depth of DepositShallowDeep
Safety RisksLowerHigher
Machinery UsedExcavators, BulldozersDrills, Mine Shafts

How Asbestos is Processed

Asbestos comes from the earth and needs several steps to get ready for use. First, it’s broken down during milling operations. This stage is key to separating and preparing the fibres for use in industries.

In the milling operations, the asbestos is crushed, dried, and sorted. Crushing makes the ore smaller and easier to work with. Then, drying removes moisture, which is crucial for the quality of the fibres.

Then, the fibres are graded for quality. This ensures the final product is consistent and safe for use in things like construction. This final product is known as friable asbestos, which means it can easily break into dust, posing risks if mishandled.

  • Crushing: This is where the process begins, breaking down the ore.
  • Drying: This step is to remove moisture for better quality fibres.
  • Grading: This ensures the fibres are of high and consistent quality.
Processing StageDescription
CrushingBreaking down the ore to release asbestos fibres.
DryingEliminating moisture to prevent fibre degradation.
GradingEnsuring fibres have consistent quality and size.

The steps of asbestos fibre processing are key to making the material useful for industry. Yet, we must handle friable asbestos carefully because it can be dangerous.

Asbestos Mining and Production

We start our adventure with asbestos mining and making by learning the methods and tools used at the start. This mineral was very important in many industries because it doesn’t catch fire and lasts a long time.

Asbestos mining and production

Initial Extraction

Mining asbestos first involves careful and advanced mining ways. Based on how deep and what kind of asbestos deposit, they used open-pit or underground mining. Open-pit mining was better for shallow deposits because it was efficient. But, underground mining needed a lot of safety measures because it was more complex.

Processing and Refinement

After getting the asbestos, it goes through careful processing and refining. This is crucial to get the valuable fibres out of the ore. Milling is key in this phase, where they smash, dry, and sort the raw ore. This prepares the asbestos for use in making many different products.

Manufacturing Products

Then, they turn the refined asbestos fibres into many products. Making asbestos cement was a big use, creating strong, fire-proof cement sheets for building. Asbestos insulation was also popular for its ability to keep heat in, used in homes and factories. Even though they’ve stopped making asbestos products because they are dangerous, making them was a big deal back in the day.

Health Risks Associated with Asbestos

Exposure to asbestos can lead to serious health issues, like many asbestos-related diseases. A serious one is mesothelioma, a cancer that hits the lung, abdomen, or heart lining. It comes from inhaling asbestos fibres, showing the big dangers of such exposure.

Asbestosis is another disease from asbestos, hurting the lungs. It makes breathing hard due to lung scarring. People with it often have coughs, breath shortness, and chest pain. This shows the big risks to workers’ health.

Asbestos also causes other lung cancers. It’s risky for those near old asbestos or doing renovations. Companies like Total Asbestos Removal Brisbane help lower these risks. They make the environment safer for Australians.


The story of asbestos mining in Australia is filled with ups and downs. For years, it helped the economy but also caused health and environmental issues. The dangers of asbestos, like mesothelioma and asbestosis, have outshined its economic benefits.

Now, Australia’s asbestos ban protects us and future generations. This action shows our dedication to ending its harmful effects. Companies like Total Asbestos Removal Brisbane lead the charge in making areas safe. Their work in removing asbestos ensures a healthier Australia.

Looking ahead, we must stay careful and stick to high safety standards when handling leftover asbestos. Professional checks and cleaning are crucial for our safety. Australia’s journey with asbestos teaches us about the value of health and safety in work.


How is asbestos extracted?

Mining gets asbestos out of the ground. There are two ways: open-pit mining for the shallow ones and underground mining for the deep ones. Open-pit mining is cheaper, but underground mining needs tunnels.

What types of asbestos were mined in Australia?

Australia mined chrysotile (white asbestos) and amphibole asbestos, including crocidolite (blue asbestos). Chrysotile was liked for being heat resistant and durable. Crocidolite was a major product, especially in Wittenoom, Western Australia.

Where can asbestos deposits be found in Australia?

Australia had big asbestos deposits in Western Australia’s Wittenoom and New South Wales’ Baryulgil. These places had a lot of asbestos, so mining was big there.

What are the methods used for asbestos processing?

Once mined, asbestos needs to be processed. This includes crushing the ore to free the fibres, then drying and grading them. The clean fibres are then used in many industrial products.

What health risks are associated with asbestos exposure?

Being around asbestos can cause diseases like mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer. These come from breathing in asbestos fibres, which often happens at work or with old asbestos products. Getting rid of asbestos safely is very important.

What is the history of asbestos mining in Australia?

Asbestos mining in Australia started in the late 1800s and was huge until the 1970s. Wittenoom was a top producer of blue asbestos. But as people understood the health dangers, mining stopped. By 2003, using asbestos was completely banned.

What are the primary asbestos mining methods?

For asbestos mining, shallow deposits use open-pit mining and deep ones use underground mining. Open-pit mining is straightforward, but underground mining needs extra safety measures for the miners.

What products were made from asbestos?

Asbestos went into making things like cement sheets, insulation, and car parts because it’s fireproof and tough. But knowing the health risks, these products are not made with asbestos anymore.

What measures are in place to handle asbestos safely?

Australia has strict rules to keep asbestos handling safe. There are professional removal companies, like Total Asbestos Removal Brisbane. They make sure asbestos is removed without harming health or the environment. Safety rules are key during any demolition or renovation.

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Somah Thong

Asbestos Removal Specialist

Somah Thong is an experienced, licensed, and qualified asbestos removal specialist and the founder of Total Asbestos Removal Brisbane. Established on June 2, 2010, Total Asbestos Removal Brisbane has become a leading name in the industry, undertaking some of the largest asbestos and demolition projects in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. With a commitment to safety and excellence, Somah and his team have earned a reputation for delivering high-quality services in the asbestos removal sector.