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Asbestos has been widely used as a building material since the 1960s. Owing to its idyllic properties it became a preferred choice among building materials. Asbestos is cheap, strong, heat-resistant, fire-proof and incombustible. These attributes make it an ideal substance for manufacturing and construction. However, asbestos also has properties that make it risky for health.

When disturbed or damaged, asbestos fibres will be released into the air. These remain suspended in the air and can be inhaled, thus leading to lung diseases. Breathing issues and cancer, in the long run, are commonly associated with asbestos fibres.

Asbestos Friability and Types of Asbestos Based on Friability

Friability is defined as the tendency of ACM or Asbestos Containing Materials to break down. Any chipping or crumbling under pressure resulting due to abrasion is considered under friability. The ACMs that are more likely to break down and release asbestos fibres that can be inhaled is known as friable. These ACMs easily crumble or get reduced to powder form even by touch.

Friable asbestos: As suggested by the name, friable asbestos is one that is more prone to break down. This type of asbestos can be easily broken and fibres get released into the air. Friable asbestos has more than 1% asbestos content by weight and gets easily damaged by touch.

Friable asbestos has been commonly used in industrial and commercial settings. Since the late 1800s, this type of asbestos was used for insulation, fireproofing and soundproofing. Houses built before 1990 also used friable asbestos and this can still be found in some of those houses.

Non-friable asbestos: Non-friable asbestos or bonded asbestos is more resistant to damage. Due to its resistance to abrasion, it is less likely to release harmful fibres into the air. Non-friable asbestos does not get damaged or crumbles under touch by the human hand.

Bonded asbestos is made by mixing a bonding compound like cement or plastic with a small amount of asbestos. The fibres are tightly bonded together. Bonded asbestos is also known as asbestos cement, AC sheeting or fibro.

When in good condition, this type of asbestos product does not release any fibres into the air. As long as proper safety precautions are followed, these products are considered low risk.

Management of Asbestos

Proper maintenance and management of asbestos are essential for the safety and security of those in the surroundings. Employers have the responsibility of managing asbestos in the workplace and ensuring that all asbestos in the workplace is properly registered in the asbestos register. An employer must also clearly identify and indicate the presence of asbestos. The indication can best be done by using labels.

If asbestos is fixed and installed properly and then left undisturbed it is unlikely that any fibres will get released into the air. However, it is important that the condition of asbestos is reviewed periodically to ensure low or nil health risks. Using bonded or non-friable asbestos is the most judicious thing to do.