Asbestos is usually combined with other materials when it is used for industrial or manufacturing purposes. What people call “friable asbestos” contains more than 1% asbestos and is distinguished by a very powdery consistency. It is labeled as Regulated Asbestos-Containing Material (RACM).
Asbestos may have many benefits, but these are outweighed by its health risks. When it is crushed, it releases very small—even microscopic—fibers that linger in the atmosphere for many, many years. Once inhaled, the fibers cling to the lungs and the tissues of the body. Prolonged exposure to asbestos can increase risk for cancer and lung disease. It is the major cause of asbestosis, a chronic respiratory problem which is often mistaken for emphysema.
Asbestos’ health risks led to its ban in 1978. However, many old homes were made from materials that contained it. For example, Friable Asbestos was a common component of acoustic ceilings and tiles. It was also an insulating agent and was often used in water heaters and pipes, as well as many kinds of plasters and wallboards.
Asbestos is still used in manufacturing today, as a binding or hardening material for cement, vinyl or asphalt products. However, companies use another form called Non-Friable Asbestos Containing Material (also called ACM). It is found in roofing shingles, floor tiles, and siding. Companies claim that this asbestos is “safer” since it is not as powdery and less likely to be inhaled. However, health organizations believe that it can still pose danger when the building is constructed, repaired or remodeled. To check buildings for presence of asbestos, contact a licensed asbestos expert.