Which Type of Asbestos Products Is More Dangerous: Friable or Non-Friable?

By Cristina M. in Health

Although the manufacturing and use of asbestos products have decreased considerably within the past five decades, there are still plenty of houses in the U.S. which were built with asbestos-containing materials. Insulation, vinyl floor tiles, and spray-on ceiling treatment - widely known as popcorn ceiling - are three of the most common asbestos products found in old homes. While asbestos is present in each of these building materials to a greater or lesser extent, their properties are quite different. The criterion by which asbestos products, regardless of their purpose, are classified is friability.

Friability refers to the tendency of a material to crumble or break when slight pressure is applied, such as crushing it in your hand. Accordingly, there are two types of asbestos products: friable and non-friable. Even though asbestos exposure is never truly safe, friable asbestos products are considered to be significantly more dangerous than non-friable ones, as they release a higher amount of toxic fibers in the air more easily. However, non-friable building materials can be nearly as hazardous when severely damaged, so it is advisable to always take precautions when handling asbestos products of any kind.

Friable Asbestos Products

Also known as loosely-bound, friable asbestos products are rarely encountered in residential buildings nowadays, as they were mostly employed in industrial settings to insulate various facilities and equipment. Nevertheless, certain friable asbestos products may be present in houses built before the 1980s, entailing a substantially higher risk of exposure than their non-friable counterparts. Because these building materials typically contain a tremendous concentration of asbestos, disturbance will easily lead to the release of carcinogenic fibers in the air. Some friable products contain nearly 100% asbestos.

It is also important to note that non-friable asbestos materials can become friable over the years due to aging. As this type of asbestos products is the most dangerous, they should only be removed by a professional abatement company. The following list includes the most common friable asbestos products which can be found in old houses:

  • hot water pipe lagging
  • the lining of stoves and old domestic heaters
  • spray-on ceiling treatment
  • vermiculite attic insulation
  • the backing of sheet vinyl floor tiles and linoleum floor covering
  • boiler insulation

Non-Friable Asbestos Products

Over 95% of asbestos products are non-friable. In this type of building materials, asbestos fibers are tightly-bound, which implies a lower risk of exposure. Nonetheless, if non-friable asbestos products are damaged or disturbed in any way, they can pose a great threat to your health, as fibers will become airborne. These products usually have a concentration of 10-15% asbestos, but some may contain up to 40%. Most non-friable asbestos building materials are rigid and solid, making up the majority of asbestos products in a house.

Some of the most common non-friable asbestos products you can come across in old homes are:

  • vinyl floor tiles
  • corrugated cement sheeting
  • drywall
  • siding
  • interior walls
  • ceiling tiles
  • cement pipes

If your home has non-friable asbestos products which are in poor condition (brittle, damaged etc.), it is recommended to have a certified asbestos removal company properly dispose of them, as there is a considerable risk of exposure. You should also postpone any remodeling operations until the building is asbestos-free, as disturbing asbestos-containing materials will inevitably release toxic fibers in the atmosphere. There is a list of asbestos abatement companies which offer high-quality services at the end of our free, downloadable guide.

Why Should I Test Products in My Home for Asbestos?

It is often impossible to tell whether asbestos is embedded in a material, as the fibers are too small to be observed with the naked eye. Exposure to asbestos is responsible for serious respiratory conditions, so thorough testing is required to ensure your home is asbestos-free.