There were other benefits. Scientific developments meant that asbestos could be used in more products, from kitchen floors to garden fences. Plus, happy customers associated the material with fire and corrosion prevention. For millions of people, asbestos and convenience were good friends. By the 1950s, asbestos was part of everyday life.
“Asbestos is the name of a group of highly fibrous minerals with separable, long, and thin fibers.” – The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
There are many types of asbestos-containing material. Friable asbestos products, for example, tend to be more precious. They are often loose. When dry, friable asbestos is easy to crumble without much pressure. As a result, this type of asbestos is associated with high danger levels.
Insulation is one well-known example of friable asbestos. It can also be found in the lining of old heaters, hot water systems and linoleum floor coverings, among other places.
Moreover, it doesn’t take much strength to crumble dry friable asbestos into fine material with your hand. Consequently, asbestos fibers are often invisible and easy to inhale.
When products contain high amounts of asbestos fibers, the health of humans and animals is put at risk especially if they are exposed for long periods of time. Asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer are the most deadly examples.
Bonded (non-friable) asbestos, by way of contrast, is another type of material most Australians are familiar with because of its better reputation and popularity. Think ‘fibro’ and ‘asbestos cement’ or ‘AC sheeting’ widespread across suburbia.
Bonded asbestos is often bonded with a cement compound with less asbestos (typically below 15 per cent). Therefore, it will last for years, even decades, without causing serious risks.
One issue with bonded asbestos, however, is that it ages. When exposed to the elements, from hailstorms to extreme temperatures, the chances of areas becoming friable significantly increase. Or put another way: Bonded asbestos can become friable asbestos.
Keep in mind too that when cement sheeting is crushed or disturbed it also poses a risk. Dust particles can be lethal. For instance, drilling through a bonded asbestos wall must be done in a professional manner because of potential contamination. Likewise, removing asbestos flooring isn’t recommended.
Today, countless products around the world still contain small traces of asbestos (typically less than 1 percent). Indeed, your average car’s brake pads and some potting soils contain traces of asbestos. And did you know that we are often exposed to low levels of the fibers in the air or around 0.00001 to 0.0001 fibers per milliliter?
Naturally, older products, like older houses, come with greater risks because they tend to contain higher levels of asbestos. Professionals are trained to carefully measure the risks based on good science.