What is the Difference Between Friable and Non-Friable Asbestos

How to Identify Different Forms of Asbestos

Have you ever wondered how some items can contain asbestos but generally not be considered a risk to your health or workplace?

Asbestos is dangerous and carcinogenic due to the material fibers that can be inhaled. Inhalation of asbestos or asbestos-containing materials (ACM) can damage your lungs beyond repair and cause complications including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

In order for these fibers to be released into the air, asbestos has to be crumbled, chipped or crushed – causing the fibers to separate and spread.

Anytime you can easily pulverize asbestos with your hands, it’s considered friable. This dangerous and delicate consistency makes it more likely for people to inhale asbestos.

If asbestos is resilient to hand pressure, it is considered non-friable. This more sturdy asbestos is broken up into two designations. Your building could include Category I ACMs which are unlikely to become damaged and friable. Anything under Category II ACMs are strong but more likely to become friable if they are crushed or pulverized.

Because even non-friable asbestos can be damaged and spread fibers, you should never assume it is safe to handle.

Where You Might Find Fraying Friable Asbestos

Flaky and fibrous asbestos can dangerously enter the air around you. Unsure what items to look out for?

According to Mesothelioma Hub, you can find friable asbestos in objects such as:

It’s important to note that in order for these objects to contain asbestos, they needed to be made prior to asbestos regulations that started in the 1970s. Newly purchased building materials should not contain asbestos. If for some reason you buy something that is not subject to regulations, it is likely that it will be labeled accordingly.

There are manufacturers that presently create asbestos containing materials for various purposes, you can find a list of them at the Mesothelioma Center website. 

Why Non-Friable Isn’t Always Non-Threatening

Durable asbestos containing materials may not always put your harm at risk, but damage or wear and tear can cause fibers to begin entering the air.

For example, non-friable asbestos containing materials might have been used to build a house. Day to day the objects remain whole and do not have degrading fibers. But when it comes time to tear down the house, those ACMs are crushed and suddenly asbestos is spreading.

You can find non-friable asbestos in objects such as:

  • Cement sheet
  • Cement molded items
  • Bitumen waterproofing
  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • Home siding
  • Roofing felt
  • Gaskets

Many of the items on the list are not especially flakey or weak but when put up against a bulldozer or intense chemicals, it’s another story entirely.

How to Test for Friable or Non-Friable Asbestos Containing Materials

A key to protecting yourself, your staff and your clients is getting accurate and reliable asbestos lab testing results. 

Due to the wide array of asbestos containing materials there are numerous ways to test including:

  • Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM)
  • Phase Contrast Microscopy (PCM)
  • Soil and Sediment

PLM offers a great option for testing for non-friable and friable asbestos. It can be used to distinguish asbestos from non-asbestos fibers in bulk materials. These results can even include asbestos mineral species classifications and identifications of non-asbestos materials in the sample.

PCM collects asbestos from air samples. This will help you pinpoint if your workplace has friable asbestos or non-friable asbestos that has turned friable. This is most often done at asbestos abatement sites.

Find asbestos fibers in your soil by using an Environmental Protection Agency method called CARB 435 and an American Society for Testing and Materials method.

Partner With the Most Certified Asbestos Testing Lab

Asbestos is a complex mineral that is an extremely serious threat to human health. Your business has to be vigilant in preventing exposure to asbestos. Otherwise it could face lawsuits years down the road as employees begin seeing the negative impacts of breathing in this carcinogen.

Environmental Hazards Services LLC (EHS) has a full-service lab in Richmond, VA that holds all 16 required asbestos lab accreditations. Our versatile testing capabilities make it possible for our scientists to test a quarter of a million asbestos samples annually.

Contact our experts to track down asbestos in your workplace and make your first steps towards mitigation.