Asbestos Disturbance Potential

In his book, Asbestos Control: Surveys, Removal, and Management, Andrew F. Oberta explains that OSHA describes a “disturbance” as “…activities that disrupt the matrix of ACM or PACM, crumble or pulverize ACM or PACM, or generate visible debris from ACM or PACM.” Assessing each area containing asbestos, the inspector determines a disturbance potential ranking that varies as Low, Medium or High. The inspector’s survey report also indicates disturbance factors, which include physical and environmental disturbance considerations.

Physical Disturbances

Oberta explains that most damage to asbestos occurs out of “human carelessness, ignorance and indifference.” The inspector should therefore determine if behaviors leading to this damage persist in employees of or visitors to the building. An example of human behaviors that can lead to the disturbance of these materials is if an employee stepped on pipe fittings and knocked loose asbestos materials. Individuals may have also tripped over low-lying pipe insulation, knocking off asbestos materials. If asbestos fireproofing was scraped from a beam to affix a pipe, asbestos materials are also released, while some individuals may expose the material due to performing blatant property destruction, such as etching their name in a surface.

Environmental Disturbances

Environmental disturbances of asbestos-containing materials can arise from vibration, air erosion, water damage and corrosive air or liquid contact. Vibrations may dislodge and weaken asbestos materials, allowing the slow release of asbestos materials. The presence of mechanical equipment can lead to the vibration that allows fibers to become detached. Another form of environmental disturbance, air erosion, occurs if air flow currents are strong enough to disrupt and detach looser asbestos materials.

Water damage can present some of the greatest damage potential. It can result from a leaking roof or pipe and must be addressed quickly. Soaked plaster ceilings will collapse before long, exposing asbestos materials in this area. Finally, a corrosive environment may accelerate the exposure of asbestos materials, especially in facilities that regularly use these harsh chemicals, as many industrial facilities do. In many cases this degradation due to corrosive materials can take a long time to occur.  However, even outdoor surfaces can eventually deteriorate to the point that asbestos materials are exposed and released.


  • Oberta, Andrew F. (2005). Asbestos Control: Surveys, Removal, and Management (2nd ed.). West Conshohocken, PA: ASTM International.