Friable Asbestos

Last updated: September 3, 2019

What Does Friable Asbestos Mean?

Friable asbestos refers to any asbestos-containing material (ACM) that is at least one percent asbestos by weight or volume and can be crumbled or powdered by the strength of a human hand.

This also refers to spray-on materials that include asbestos as a component, such as fire retardants and thermal insulation.

Safeopedia Explains Friable Asbestos

Because it is so easily degraded, friable asbestos has a tendency to release asbestos fibers, which are extremely hazardous to humans if inhaled or ingested. Friable asbestos contrasts with non-friable asbestos, or “bonded asbestos," which is unable to be easily powdered or crumbled.

Friable asbestos is used in a wide variety of construction and industrial applications and thus poses a significant workplace risk. This risk is increased by the fact that individuals exposed to asbestos fibers do not present health symptoms for many years after their exposure to the material. Common health effects of asbestos exposure include asbestosis (lung scarring), lung cancer, and mesothelioma (cancer of the tissue lining the lung cavity). Evidence suggests that a variety of other cancers can also be exaggerated by asbestos exposure.

As awareness of the hazards of friable asbestos has increased, there has been a shift toward substituting ACM materials for non-asbestos alternatives using bonded asbestos solutions and sealing any friable materials in airtight containers. However, workers who must handle older construction materials are still likely to encounter friable material. OSHA advises employers to assume that many items contain asbestos if they were manufactured before 1981, such as vinyl floor tiles and heat-resistant textiles.

It can be difficult to properly identify all sources of friable asbestos that exist within a single environment, as non-friable asbestos may become friable over time as it is damaged or degraded. To ensure that workplace asbestos levels are safe, OSHA requires employers who can reasonably expect the presence of asbestos in their workplace to engage in ongoing exposure monitoring.


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