Environmental Geology

, Volume 57, Issue 4, pp 909–926 | Cite as

Naturally occurring asbestos in eastern Australia: a review of geological occurrence, disturbance and mesothelioma risk

  • Marc HendrickxEmail author
Original Article


Potential asbestos-bearing rocks account for about 0.2% of the land area of eastern Australia. The main mode of occurrence is as narrow cross fibre and slip fibre veins of chrysotile asbestos in serpentinised ophiolite complexes along the boundaries of major tectonic domains. Smaller deposits of chrysotile and amphibole asbestos occur in metamorphosed mafic and ultramafic rocks associated with the Macquarie Volcanic Arc in New South Wales. Amphibole asbestos is also known from Proterozoic and Palaeozoic amphibolite and from Devonian basalt. Natural asbestos-bearing materials in eastern Australia have been disturbed by mining, road construction, agriculture and forestry, urban development and through natural weathering processes. Persons most at risk of potential exposure to asbestos from natural sources include: farmers who work or live in areas where asbestos-bearing materials may be routinely disturbed by agricultural activities; construction workers involved in large-scale earthwork projects in areas underlain by asbestos-bearing rocks; and quarry workers who unwittingly disturb asbestos-bearing materials. Government authorities and private enterprise need to take geological factors into account to reduce the likelihood of unplanned disturbance of natural asbestos-bearing materials.


Geoscience and health Naturally occurring asbestos Australia Chrysotile Tremolite Mesothelioma 



The author thanks Dr Geoff Plumlee and Prof Brian Gulson for in depth and constructive reviews and comments of the manuscript. Local councils are thanked for their cooperation in providing information about historical use of serpentinite gravels and recent remediation efforts. Thanks go to Damon Bird for assistance with sample collection near Orange and for permission to publish a photograph of a sample from the Lucknow Mine that came out of his personal collection. This study is supported by an Australian Post Graduate Award made available by Macquarie University.

Supplementary material

254_2008_1370_MOESM1_ESM.doc (189 kb)
ESM (DOC 189 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of the EnvironmentMacquarie UniversityNorth RydeAustralia

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