Updated: Sep 10, 2021
Before we get into the definition of friable and non-friable, you should first know that seldom is a product made mostly out of asbestos. You should also know that "asbestos" is only a blanket term for six different naturally occurring minerals.
What Is Asbestos?
Many people think asbestos is a chemical, but "asbestos" is actually a term used to refer to multiple fibrous minerals that occur naturally. There are actually six minerals in total that share these characteristics, with all of them being made up of tiny bundles of extremely long and thin fibers. These bundles easily separate from each other.
Interestingly, asbestos does not burn, which is why it quickly became used in applications of high heat and friction. It was also used as a fireproofing material for sometime. Asbestos can also be woven and it has flexibility, chemical resistance, and high tensile strength, all of which is advantageous in construction.
Asbestos vs. ACM
While older break pads would be a good exception to this rule, most commonly, asbestos was combined with other components to form an ACM, or asbestos-containing material. If a material contains at least 1% asbestos, it is considered to be an ACM. The amount of asbestos a product contains is determined by Polarized Light Microscopy, which is a special testing method.
Friable or Non-Friable?
If an ACM is dry, it's considered friable if it can be pulverized, crumbled, or otherwise reduced to power form just by the pressure of a human hand. If it cannot be reduced to a powder with hand pressure, it's considered non-friable. Of course, it is possible for a non-friable ACM to eventually become friable is subject to unusual conditions, like building demolition or if you're removing an ACM that has been glued in place.
Typically, non-friable ACM is divided into two categories. The first category is resilient floor coverings (like vinyl asbestos tile), packings, gaskets, and asphalt roofing. These materials are unlikely to become friable because the asbestos is so securely locked into the material. All other non-friable ACMs are placed in Category II, meaning they can eventually become friable because they aren't as resistant to pulverization or crushing.
Why Is Asbestos Dangerous?
The reason why asbestos is so dangerous is because, if friable (meaning the fibers can get into the air), it can get into your lungs where your body is incapable of removing it. That means the fibers accumulate overtime, which can lead to lung cancer or asbestosis. A short, one-time exposure to asbestos isn't necessarily harmful. The danger lies in the fact that asbestos builds up in the body, making each exposure cumulatively more dangerous than the last.
Unfortunately, the diseases that result from asbestos exposure often don't show symptoms for up to 30 years after they start developing, which means -- by the time a patient is diagnosed -- they have likely been exposed to asbestos countless times and their condition is already severe.
You can learn more about asbestos from cancer.gov.
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