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How Do People Test for Asbestos?

Because asbestos is so dangerous to inhale, many safety organizations recommend that only professionals remove samples for testing.
Samples are sent to a laboratory to be tested for asbestos fibers.
Asbestos was a popular insulation material used in construction until the late 1980s, when it was discovered to be an extreme health hazard.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2014
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To test for asbestos, people typically take a small sample of the material that they think contains this substance. The sample is sent to a laboratory, which uses highly sensitive equipment to detect asbestos fibers. Because asbestos can be very dangerous, many safety organizations recommend that people turn to professionals to extract samples for testing. In a situation where testing is required, a professional is also familiar with the paperwork and procedures necessary to make the test legal.

Asbestos is a type of fibrous mineral that happens to be very fire resistant. It was widely used in construction until the late 1980s, when it began to be recognized as a health risk. In an inert form, asbestos is not harmful, but when a product which contains asbestos is disturbed, it can release small fibers that are extremely dangerous to inhale. Asbestos can be found in insulation, flooring, pipe lining, and other products with increased with resistance. A test can reveal very low levels of asbestos fibers that could still be dangerous.

People should always test for asbestos when they are considering the purchase of an older home or other structure. In some regions, such testing is mandatory for the sellers, and testing records are open to people who are interested. Asbestos testing should also be carried out before remodeling an older building, or if things like floor tiles and insulation are obviously exposed and damaged.

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A quick — though not always accurate — test for asbestos is to ask a professional who is familiar with the substance to visit the site. Plumbers and electricians often regularly interact with asbestos, and they can identify substances that may contain it. The only way to truly test for it is to send in a sample to a laboratory, however. Some companies sell asbestos test kits for consumers to collect their own samples, but people who choose to do this need to be extremely careful and wear face protection while gathering the sample.

If an asbestos test confirms the presence of asbestos, the building's owner may be required to use specially trained contractors to remove the material. These contractors are familiar with the procedures for handling asbestos, and they can ensure that it is safely and legally disposed of once they have removed it. Although this can be expensive, handling asbestos properly is both environmentally responsible and legally required. In addition, it can protect the health of anyone who might use the structure in question.

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Discuss this Article

nicholas71
Post 11

@Firstviolin: I was told by the lab that I used (Western Analytical Lab) that my house built in 1984 is very unlikely to contain asbestos. I mailed a sample for testing anyway. It was very fast and cost only $30. No asbestos.

anon142102
Post 9

You can take a small sample of suspect material and get it tested at an online site. It's about £36, which is nothing for peace of mind. I got my artex tested and it contained asbestos. It's in a house that was built in the 1970's.

anon141024
Post 8

I work in a showroom where they removed asbestos from the ceiling while we worked below. Four years later people are having breathing problems and five people have been diagnosed as having reflux. Is there a way we can take a small sample of the curtain or wall covering to determine if there is still asbestos in the room?

anon139794
Post 7

Cheers for the article, nice coverage of asbestos and asbestos issues.

baileybear
Post 6

@FirstViolin - Many people all ready have it set in their mind from hearsay that "popcorn" or textured ceilings have asbestos. From the late '50s to early '80s asbestos was commonly used in these textured ceilings. If this is the original ceiling then you might want to submit samples to a lab for testing.

Aside from that, if you find there is asbestos in the ceiling then find a professional to remove it; I think this is the best way because you sound like you might be unfamiliar with the substance. Other than that, if you're truly concerned, stay away from the area as much as possible.

FirstViolin
Post 5

Does anybody know if those "popcorn" ceilings have asbestos in them?

I have one that seems to shed constantly and want to get rid of it, but I'm afraid of getting disease!

The house was built in 1986, by the way, if that makes a difference.

Does anybody know?

Pimiento
Post 4

@lightning88 - There are several ways to go about testing for asbestos in your home. You can often make an inspection part of the requirement for the purchase of the home and thus make the seller incur any repairs that would make the home suitable for move in rather then have to pay out of pocket for them yourself.

Aside from that, you can have asbestos removal companies give you a quote as well or go to a Do-It-Yourself or Home Improvement store and find a kit there from a reputable sales person. Good luck! Asbestos can be a major concern as well as a major undertaking and should be professionally removed unless you know what you're doing.

gregg1956
Post 3

@lightning88 -- Although asbestos was used more often in commercial or industrial settings, it's possible you have some in your new home.

I would call your local health inspector and have them recommend a contractor who can come check for you.

The test is usually cheap, and it's always better to check than to wonder.

Hope that helps, and good luck!

abiane
Post 2

Asbestos removal is a very tricky thing. I wouldn't recommend removing it yourself as it can be very dangerous and must be handled with care. Asbestos can create little spear-like crystals that can puncture the tissues of the lungs.

lightning88
Post 1

I'm moving into a house that was built in the 1970s, and was wondering if there was a cheap, effective way to do a home asbestos test.

The seller didn't mention anything about it, but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

Tips, anyone?

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