Until recently, the most accurate method to detect asbestos was to collect samples of air and materials and examine them under a microscope in a lab, a lengthy process. Now, researchers may be able to offer handheld technology for innovating asbestos detection in the field. These devices could revolutionize the process, offering immediate feedback about the presence of this dangerous mineral.
How Is Asbestos Usually Detected?
The standard way of testing for asbestos is to collect and prepare a sample of the material in question and send it to a lab. There, technicians use a microscope to identify asbestos. Any fibers will be closely examined to determine if they are asbestos or some other material.
The traditional asbestos detection process is time-intensive and not completely accurate. Obtaining a sample can be risky, requiring a respirator, special packaging techniques, and mailing materials. It is safest to rely on a certified asbestos professional to take the samples.
Some states allow owners of stand-alone homes to take their own samples. This can be risky and requires that the homeowner follow the instructions very carefully. Regardless of how the sample is taken, it can take three weeks to get a result from the lab.
What Is a Handheld Asbestos Analyser?
Recent technological developments improve accuracy and allow for on-site asbestos detection. These developments make the process easier to perform and provide faster results.
Instead of requiring a sample and lab investigation, workers can use handheld devices to detect asbestos directly on-site. As technology advances, these devices should also provide more accurate, less expensive results.
Spectroscopy is the main technology involved in handheld asbestos detection. This analytical technique uses the interaction between light and matter to determine the elements in the material and their ratios.
Different elements and molecules reflect light in characteristic ways. A spectroscope machine measures that reflection so unknown substances can be identified.
Different spectroscopes use different types of light. For example, some devices use X-rays. The material scatters the X-rays and a detector reads the pattern to determine if it contains asbestos.
Other handheld devices use infrared light. Both methods are proven to detect asbestos and can even distinguish between the six different types of asbestos.
Detecting Asbestos with a Magnetic Field
Spectroscopy is not a new technology, but handheld devices are a relatively new development. This is not the only detection technology available, however. Another recent technology uses lasers and magnets to distinguish asbestos fibers from other building materials like gypsum and fiberglass.
The University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom is responsible for developing this technology. Thanks to this new sensor, it is now possible to detect even low concentrations of asbestos in the air. This is a significant development for safety since it is airborne asbestos that can cause extreme health problems.
Unlike fiberglass and other common building materials, asbestos will align with a magnetic field. These new handheld devices first shine a laser on the air to be tested, identifying even a single fiber in the air. Airborne fibers are then pulled into a detector with magnets. A second laser detects asbestos fibers that line up in the magnetic field.
These devices provide fast and accurate results. They are expected to be reasonably priced, allowing companies to easily provide their workers with this useful technology. Even plumbers and electricians performing minor repairs can use this device to sample air before, during, and after projects.
Why Is it Important to Test for Asbestos?
It is important to detect asbestos because exposure to microscopic asbestos fibers is extremely harmful to human health. Over time, asbestos exposure can lead to illnesses like mesothelioma and lung cancer.
It is particularly important for anyone performing maintenance, repair, or renovation on older buildings to know if asbestos is present on a job site before work begins. If they know asbestos is there, these workers can take necessary precautions and wear proper safety gear.
Even small amounts of asbestos can cause catastrophic harm that usually doesn’t manifest until years after the exposure.
Having new and better technologies to detect asbestos in a variety of settings is important to human health. Although regulations limit the use of asbestos, it is still present in many places. Any building built before the late 1970s could contain asbestos.
As technology continues to evolve, these devices will become easier to use, more affordable, and more accurate. Both homeowners and construction workers will benefit from these new technologies.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.