Friability refers to the ability of a solid material to be reduced to smaller pieces with minimal effort. Friable asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are those that easily release their asbestos fibers, making them the most dangerous sources of asbestos exposure. For asbestos, friability generally refers to sources of the material that can be crumbled by hand. Once these asbestos fibers are released, they can lead to a number of serious health consequences, including respiratory illnesses, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.
Although not all sources of asbestos are friable, many are or have the potential to become so. Friable asbestos materials possess the following characteristics:
- Friable asbestos is the result of normal deterioration over time, weathering, exposure to chemicals and heat, or extended use.
- Friable asbestos can be broken or crumbled by hand.
- Friable asbestos is a high risk for inhalation.
- There is a high likelihood friable asbestos will release its fibers into the air.
- Examples of friable asbestos include various forms of insulation, paper products, patching compounds, and acoustical plaster, among other materials.
- Friable asbestos may be released during milling, manufacturing, demolition, renovation, and waste disposal.
Non-Friable Asbestos-Containing Materials
Non-friable asbestos materials are those that are less likely to release their fibers. In these products, the asbestos fibers are bound or glued into place, often with cement, vinyl, or resin. The following are some of the characteristics of non-friable asbestos materials:
- Non-friable asbestos materials can still become friable when cut, drilled, sanded, or damaged.
- Non-friable asbestos materials cannot be easily broken or crumbled by hand.
- Non-friable asbestos materials pose a lower inhalation risk.
- Examples of non-friable asbestos materials include roofing materials, asbestos cement products, vinyl flooring tiles, and gaskets.
Non-friable asbestos materials are further divided into Category I Non-Friable and Category II Non-Friable. Category I Non-Friable asbestos includes those least likely to be made friable because of a strong binding material. Examples include packing, gaskets, resilient floor covering, or asphalt roofing products. The Environmental Protection Agency has explained that these materials should not be removed from areas slated for demolition unless they are in poor condition and have become friable.
Category II Non-Friable asbestos materials refer to all other non-friable asbestos materials. These materials still do not readily release their asbestos fibers, though they do pose a greater risk of becoming friable. These materials cannot withstand deterioration by force, extreme heat, or weathering as well as those in Category I. Some examples of Category II Non-Friable asbestos materials include transite board shingles and cement siding.
Despite the dangers, many asbestos-containing materials are still legally sold and used in the United States. Examples of ACMs that are not banned include asbestos-cement corrugated sheet, asbestos clothing, and auto friction materials such as brake components. Despite the 1989 Asbestos Ban and Phase Out, these rules were amended shortly thereafter, allowing many products to still be used. ACMs that remain banned include all friable forms; Category I Non-Friable asbestos materials that have become friable or have been damaged through activities such as sawing, grinding, or sanding; and Category II Non-Friable asbestos materials that have a high chance of becoming friable during demolition or renovation. Flooring felt; rollboard; and corrugated, commercial, or specialty paper are examples of materials that are still banned despite the 1991 overturning of this legislation.