Because asbestos fibers are invisible to the naked eye, asbestos testing is necessary to determine whether toxic asbestos fibers are in the air. Asbestos testing can also establish whether a person has been exposed to asbestos and whether a product or building material contains asbestos. In schools and certain workplaces, asbestos testing is mandatory.

What is Asbestos?  

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that was widely used in building insulation and consumer products up until the late 1970s. Although asbestos’s durable, flexible, and fire resistant properties make it extremely useful, asbestos is dangerous when inhaled. Inhaled asbestos fibers remain lodged in the lungs and can cause severe and fatal diseases, such as:

  • mesothelioma (a cancer that affects the lung’s inner lining)
  • asbestosis (lung tissue scarring)
  • lung Cancer
  • esophageal, stomach, colon, or rectum cancer  

Asbestos Testing Methods for Exposure

The most common asbestos testing method on humans is a chest x-ray. This asbestos testing method can detect the early signs of lung disease, but it cannot detect the asbestos fibers themselves. Consequently, chest x-rays are not a useful asbestos testing method for individuals with brief or passing asbestos exposure.

Other asbestos testing methods include procedures called gallium-67 lung scanning and high-resolution computed tomography. Additionally, asbestos fibers can be detected in urine, feces, and mucus. These asbestos testing methods, however, are considered unreliable.  

Asbestos Testing in Materials

Asbestos testing may also be performed to determine whether building materials or products contain asbestos. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, this asbestos testing method must be performed by a certified, trained asbestos testing professional. In addition, the asbestos testing professional must analyze the material using a polarized light microscopy (PLM), which can determine the amount and type of asbestos in any given material.

Mandatory Asbestos Testing 

In 1986, Congress passed the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) to manage school asbestos levels. AHERA requires schools to conduct asbestos testing every three years. However, on known asbestos containing materials, ASHERA requires schools to conduct asbestos testing every six months.  

To determine workplace asbestos exposure levels, the U.S. Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to perform asbestos testing. OSHA limits workplace asbestos exposure to 0.2 fibers per cubic centimeter averaged over an eight-hour workday, and one fiber per cubic centimeter in a 30-minute time frame.

Information on Asbestos Testing

If you would like more information about asbestos testing, please contact our asbestos attorneys today.

Published November 17, 2011 by