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Asbestos Analysis – An Overview

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Asbestos has been mined and commercially used since the late 1800s. Asbestos is the name given to six natural occurring minerals that are composed of bundles of fiber that can be separated into threads. These fibers are extremely durable and resistant to fire, heat and most chemicals. For these reasons, asbestos has been used in many commercial and industrial businesses.

Hiding places for asbestosAsbestos becomes harmful when it is disturbed, releasing dust or fibers into the air where they can be inhaled or ingested. Since it is hard to destroy asbestos fibers, the body cannot break them down or remove them. The fibers will be logged in the lungs or body tissue and can will cause health problems including Asbestosis, Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma.

In 1989, the US Environmental Protective Agency banned all use of asbestos in products and asbestos-containing products. Due to its continued prevalence, samples should be brought to a NVLAP laboratory for testing to determine if they are asbestos containing materials (ACM).

Analysis of Asbestos

The way in which a sample is analyzed is based on the material and state regulations. Building materials are tested differently than that of air samples and certain states require a multi-step process of analysis. The appropriate analytical method you need is dependent on the accuracy you need from your results along with the material you are testing.

While there are many different methods of testing, the most commonly used at Eurofins CEI are listed below along with their advantages and disadvantages.

You can find additional details on these methods here.

Analytical Methods by Polarized Light Microscopy

Reasons to test for asbestosPOLARIZED LIGHT MICROSCOPY (PLM)

Advantages Disadvantages
Best for friable asbestos samples such as ceiling tile and insulation It is a less reliable method for non-friable organically bound (NOBs) materials such as floor tiles and roof tar
A variety of techniques can be used to extract the fibers from the sample matrix Relatively low accuracy on samples that have a low percentage of asbestos


Advantages Disadvantages
EPA recommended method for verification of samples with a low percentage of asbestos (less than 10%) Non-organically bound material (NOBs) should not be qualified by this method alone
Good for friable bulk building materials such as plaster and insulation Cannot resolve fibers less than 0.25 microns in width


Advantages Disadvantages
Only way NOB materials can be point counted Not intended for granular friable material such as plaster and concrete
Greater accuracy than direct PLM analysis A larger amount of material must be collected


Analytical Methods by Transmission Electron Microscopy


Advantages Disadvantages
High resolution allows very small fibers to be observed Not ideal for granular friable bulk building materials
Excellent for extreme detail where small variations of percentages is important A large amount of material must be collected


Advantages Disadvantages
Asbestos fibers can be distinguished from other fiber types This method requires a long prep time
Results can be replicated fiber for fiber For results to be effective, specific sample protocol consistent with AHERA must be followed
  Not ideal for granular friable bulk building materials
  A large amount of material must be collected


Analytical Method by Phase Contrast Microscopy


Advantages Disadvantages
The technique is specific for fibers and fiber counting Does not positively identify asbestos fibers. Other fibers that are not asbestos may be included
Inexpensive and results are determined quickly Sample must be sent to TEM for positive identification


Next Steps

If you are concerned about asbestos in your home or business, Eurofins CEI is able to isolate, identify and quantify all types of asbestos in various types of materials including cement, vermiculite, insulation and floor and ceiling slabs.

Reach out to us online, or give us a call! Our staff is ready to help ensure your safety!

Carly Johnson
Business Development