safety article
New Asbestos Detection Method Unveiled in England

A team from the University of Hertfordshire’s School of Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics has developed a new method for detecting asbestos that could help roofers, plumbers, electricians, construction workers and others avoid occupational exposure to the deadly material.

“Although asbestos is now a banned material in many industrialized countries, the threat lingers on in the ceilings, walls and floors of old buildings,” according to a University of Hertfordshire news release.

Professor Paul Kaye, a member of a team that developed the new detection method, notes that until now there has been no real-time, onsite method for detecting airborne asbestos.

“There are real-time instruments that can detect fibers, but not distinguish between asbestos and other less dangerous fibers such as mineral wool, gypsum and glass. To identify asbestos fibers normally requires expensive offsite lab work and hours of wait time,” says Kaye. “By exploiting a unique magnetic property of asbestos, we developed a new detection method which can provide onsite, real-time identification of the dangerous asbestos fibers.”

Here’s how the detection system works: When airborne asbestos fibers are exposed to a magnetic field, they tend to align with the field. This alignment can be detected by analyzing light scattering patterns. By shining a laser beam at a stream of airborne particles, a light scatter pattern is created, which is unique to the type, size and shape of the particles.

Asbestos fibers can be readily identified by measuring the light scatter patterns before and after a magnetic field, according to Kaye.

Researchers in the United Kingdom and Spain have developed prototype portable, real-time airborne asbestos detectors and they are being field tested at various asbestos removal operations. It is estimated that the first production units may be available for purchase sometime between mid-to-late 2014.

Occupational exposure to airborne asbestos causes about 100,000 deaths every year across the world. Asbestos can cause:

  • Lung cancer, which is often fatal.
  • Mesothelioma, a cancer of the protective lining covering many body organs, which is always fatal.
  • Asbestosis: A lung disease characterized by chest tightness, a constant dry cough and shortness of breath, which is not always fatal, but can be extremely debilitating.

Related content:

Use this asbestos awareness safety video to educate your workers on the hazards of working with materials that may contain asbestos.

An asbestos removal contractor who ignored advice to shut down a project put his workers at risk for exposure, as this story details.

If you are in Canada: Read about an alert released regarding potential exposure to asbestos in brake repairs.

If you are in the United States: This article can give you an overview of asbestos laws in the US.


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