U.K. scientists have created the first device that is able to detect asbestos fibers in real-time. This could be an important protective tool for industry workers whose jobs may put them at a high risk of being exposed to asbestos or asbestos-containing materials.
Inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to diseases such as Mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis, which often develops decades after the exposure occurred. Even though the health risks of asbestos are now understood, this dangerous mineral still exists in many places today due its widespread use in products such as ceiling tiles and insulation in the past. People in certain occupations, including plumbing, roofing, and electrical work, are at a greater risk of coming into contact with asbestos-containing materials. While Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) asbestos guidelines require the use of protective gear when working in areas where asbestos may be present, a portable, real-time asbestos detector would be a practical supplemental tool.
The asbestos detector would be affordable and accessible, unlike currently used alternatives for revealing asbestos such as filtering the air and then analyzing fibers via advanced technology—a process that is time-consuming and involves costly lab resources. Real-time general fiber detectors are presently available on the market, but a major problem with those is that they make no distinction between asbestos and other fibers, such as glass or mineral wool.
Asbestos fibers have a special magnetic property that can be identified by the asbestos detector. The structure of asbestos fibers causes them to align with a magnetic field when exposed, most likely due to the iron that partly makes up the fibers. The detector points a laser beam at a cloud of airborne particles, causing light to reflect off the particles, which creates patterns that can be used to determine what types of particles they are. The detector takes the particles through a magnetic field and then once again employs light scattering, this time to show if the fibers have aligned magnetically.
The asbestos detector is being used in field trials currently, and is expected to be available to purchase in 12 to 18 months. It is estimated that asbestos detectors will initially market for a cost of approximately $700-$800. The price may decrease once the product has been introduced and production has accelerated.