What Is Friable and Non-Friable Asbestos Material?

Friable is a term often used in legal documents that refer to the carcinogen asbestos. In general, this consistency of asbestos materials are easily crumbled or turned to powder by touch. Products with high friability (typically high asbestos-containing materials) give way with only light hand pressure. Typically, loose asbestos dust is considered dangerous because of the risk of cancer.

Non-friable, however, does not mean that a material is safe to handle. Over time, these materials may become crumbled or powdery. Usually, this occurs through normal wear-and-tear on products, accidental or weather damage, or age.

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What’s the Difference?

The difference between friable asbestos and non is the state of the fibers. Subsequently, non-friable materials are also called “bonded asbestos” because the fibers are bound together.

Friable Vs. Bonded Asbestos
The Difference: Friable asbestos crumbles, frays, or breaks with little effort while non-friable asbestos can’t be damaged by the human hand.
The Same: Both are cancer-causing, asbestos-containing material (ACM) made with at least 1% of the toxin.

Usually, the more asbestos a product contains, the weaker it becomes. ACMs with high concentrations of the carcinogen break easily with little pressure (such as popcorn ceiling). However, very few products contain 100% asbestos.

Generally, lower concentrations of the fiber translate to a lower risk of releasing fibers into the air. For example, non-friable materials often have less than 15% asbestos content (such as asbestos cement).

Classification of Asbestos Containing Materials

Notably, friable ACM is often flaky and crumbles easily – even when it’s new. On the other hand, non-friable ACM is usually uncrushable. Yet, these materials can become dangerous over time through normal age and outside damage. For instance, asbestos-containing automotive brakes cannot crumble by the human hand, but can through abrasive grinding activities

In many states, officials categorize asbestos based on the condition of the fibers at the time of manufacturing.

Friable ACMs include:

  • Insulation boards
  • Pipe lagging
  • Spray-on paints and surface coatings
  • Thermal insulation

Non-Friable ACMs include:

  • Bitumen products
  • Cement sheets
  • Gaskets
  • Roofing felt
  • Siding
  • Vinyl floor tiles

Asbestos Exposure

Exposure to ACM is not normally dangerous. Non-friable ACM, especially, poses a lower risk of releasing fibers too small to see into the air. Once airborne, the nearly weightless fibers stay afloat for days before nearby people inhale them. Asbestos-caused health problems include diseases like:

  • Asbestosis
  • Cancers of the oral cavity
  • Colon cancer
  • Esophagus cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Larynx cancer
  • Lung Cancer
  • Mesotheliomas
  • Stomach cancer

Yet, even crushable materials aren’t a threat unless damaged. If you suspect items in your home are contaminated, do not move or touch them. You could expose yourself to harmful particles in the air.

Asbestos testing, usually done in a lab using Polarized Light Microscopy, is the only way to confirm contamination.

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