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Benefication of chrysotile by wet processing-the resource without the hazard


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Author Stewart PSB and Andrews JRG


Chrysotile asbestos is a valuable resource. Used as a reinforcement in asbestos cement, products are obtained which are cheap, are not attacked by vermin, do not rot or support growth of fungi and are unaffected by water or humid conditions. Such products are of great value in the developing countries where inexpensive and durable building materials and pressure pipe are very important to development, housing and water supplies. Concern over the adverse effects of inhaling asbestos has led to the introduction of increasingly stringent controls world wide on the quantities of airborne asbestos per- missible in the occupational situation. Wet processing has the potential for virtually eliminating the environmental concerns with asbestos dust both in fibre production and in the materials handling section of the manufac- ture of asbestos cement products. In addition, high efficiencies associated with wet process- ing mean that better yields are obtained and that the tailings which are dumped have a lower residual asbestos content. Since early 1977, ICI Australia and Woodsreef Mines have been engaged in a programme of research to develop and evaluate a wet mill- ingprocess to produce, from ore and existing tailings, high grade fibre suitable for use in asbestos cement products. The process has been developed through microscopic studies, labora- tory bench scale experiments, work in a small scale semi-continuous plant and product evalua- tion on experimental size Hatschek asbestos cement machines. A prototype mill with a normal feed rate of 1z tonnes per hour and capable of producing pipe grade asbestos from Woodsreef ore has been constructed and was operational from January, 1982 to July, 1983. A range of asbestos cement products have been made successfully on full scale Hatschek machines using fibre from ore and tailings milled in the prototype mill. Economic evaluations indicate that a wet process mill would be cheaper to build, operate and maintain than an equivalent dry process plant. A commercial plant has been designed 1. Manager New Process Development, Woodsreef Mines Limited, Barraba, Australia. 2. Senior Lecturer, Department of Chemical Engineering, Monash University, Vic, Australia. formerly Senior Research Officer, Research Department, ICI Australia Limited