What is Friable Asbestos?

R. Kayne

Friable asbestos is a term used to describe any asbestos-containing material that when dry, can be easily crumbled or pulverized to powder by hand. Material that contains more than just 1% asbestos and is friable is considered to be Regulated Asbestos-Containing Material (RACM).

Wallboard is a common type of friable asbestos.
Wallboard is a common type of friable asbestos.

Some common examples of friable asbestos are acoustic ceilings and tiles, many types of plasters, wallboard, joint compound or "mud" and thermal insulation for water heaters and pipes. Although use of asbestos in these products was banned by 1978 those already in the marketplace remained on the shelves and were used in construction for many years after. They are still commonly found in homes today.

Asbestos must be removed before a building's demolition.
Asbestos must be removed before a building's demolition.

Non-friable asbestos-containing material (ACM) is not regulated because it contains a binder or hardening agent such as cement, asphalt or vinyl. Examples of ACM are asphalt roofing shingles, vinyl asbestos floor tiles and transite siding made with cement. ACM products are still being manufactured today. The danger with this type of material is that it can pose the same hazard as friable asbestos during remodeling, repairs or other construction. Burning ACM also creates friable asbestos.

One common type of friable asbestos is acoustic ceilings.
One common type of friable asbestos is acoustic ceilings.

When asbestos is crushed it disperses a dusting of microscopic fibers in the air that can remain for very long periods of time. These fibers can be unknowingly inhaled and permanently lodged in lung and other body tissues, yet symptoms might not appear for 20 years or more. Inhaling the fibers has been linked to cancer and asbestosis, a chronic lung disease similar in symptoms to emphysema. Unfortunately there is no known safe level of exposure, which is why asbestos remains a concern today.

Inhaling asbestos dust can cause respiratory illness.
Inhaling asbestos dust can cause respiratory illness.

If you suspect your home might contain friable asbestos or ACM you can consult a licensed asbestos expert to conduct a survey of your home and take samples for analysis. If asbestos is found but your home is in good shape, the Air Pollution Control District (APCD) recommends leaving it while being cognizant of avoiding damage that might cause release of fibers. If you want to remodel or perform other repairs, then a licensed asbestos contractor should be hired to remove the material legally and safely. Unfortunately this is rather costly due to the hazard involved and the care that must be taken to do it properly. Materials must be wet to eliminate fiber release, and anti-dust emission controls like large specialty vacuums are used. The removed material is treated as hazardous waste, must be double-bagged and disposed of properly.

Sweeping, dusting, or using a household vacuum will only make fibers airborne. They will pass through household filters and are not visible to the naked eye.

If a home or building is being demolished for any reason, the law requires a licensed asbestos contractor remove all ACM and friable asbestos prior to demolition.

Asbestos, is a term that covers many types of naturally-occurring fibrous materials that are long-lasting, lightweight and fire-resistant, making them a popular choice for construction until the dangers were discovered in the 1970s.

Wearing a respirator mask is crucial for workers involved in asbestos removal to prevent inhaling dust.
Wearing a respirator mask is crucial for workers involved in asbestos removal to prevent inhaling dust.

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Discussion Comments


Thanks for all these information, Actually I've been searching information about terrazzo tile and I really found what I was looking for. Then this topic was on the related article list and I got curious since we are thinking of remodeling our house and it would be cool to know more information before we start.


I just finished an environmental course and adding a new layer sub flooring, such as concrete board, before ceramic tile is the recommended way of remediation.


My landlord tore down some of the asbestos that was on the pipes in the basement and the white covering on the old boiler. He left a lot of it all over the basement floor and this is where my laundry is. the stuff has been falling on the top of my dryer and washer. how bad has going down there for the last six months been to our health?


I just bought a house that has that popcorn finish in the ceiling. I had my cousin put in a ceiling fan. We put a garbage can with a plastic bag to go around it so nothing fell to the floor and he did a little rewiring of the ceiling in my kids room which is my concern. I did not see any debree from the ceiling in my kids room but I am concerned anyway. Is there a way of finding out of any of this got in the carpet or is in the air so I can fix it? Please let me know asap. I need to read my disclosure documents again!!!


We are completing a kitchen renovation and the existing kitchen had 3 layers of flooring. The house was built in 1959 and the floor had two layers of tile and one layer of linoleum sheet. Underneath the tile was a black adhesive material. We pryed the flooring up with hammer/screwdrivers and peeled it off. There is still black adhesive remaining.

Please advise if this method caused any ACM (non-friable) asbestos to enter the air. If so, how long will is remain in our house and are we safe? If we cover the floor with new tile backerboard and tile, is it a safe condition? THANKS!

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