Safely Obtaining Asbestos Samples
You know that having asbestos in your home can be dangerous, but do you know how and where to find it? Asbestos is generally safe until it is disturbed, but remodeling projects and other household improvements can expose you to asbestos if you’re not careful. Deteriorating and damaged building materials, too, can release asbestos. In order to keep your family safe, it is important to know where you may encounter asbestos. It is also important to learn how to take a sample of any suspect material to determine if it is asbestos or something more benign.
Asbestos Sample Defined
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral material naturally found in soil and rock formations. The term is a generic one and can refer to any one of six different minerals, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Before the dangers of asbestos were known, it was frequently used in manufacturing thanks to its superior strength, durability and fire resistance. In homes and businesses, asbestos was frequently added to many building materials, including:
- Roofing shingles
- Floor tiles and tile adhesive
- Hot water pipe wraps
- Joint compound
- Textured paints
Testing samples in a laboratory is the only conclusive method to identify if Asbestos is present. The lab report will record if the sample has asbestos or non-asbestos content.
Identifying Potential Asbestos
Unfortunately, asbestos is impossible to visually identify. In the case of insulation, asbestos appears as a gray and fluffy fibrous material. As you can see here, however, products that contain asbestos typically look the same as those that do not. Because you can’t visually identify asbestos, assume any potential asbestos is until proven otherwise.
If you believe you have encountered asbestos, the safest course of action is to leave it alone. While damaged and disturbed materials may release hazardous asbestos fibers, asbestos generally is not dangerous if left undisturbed. If you can, close off the area you suspect contains asbestos to keep pets and children away from any potential danger. After securing the area, you can take a sample of the material yourself for asbestos testing or call a professional to procure a sample for you.
You must understand the risks of procuring an asbestos sample before choosing to obtain one yourself. When asbestos is handled, its tiny fibers float through the air and enter the body. When inhaled, these fibers lodge in the lungs and stay there, eventually causing lung cancer. Asbestos exposure has also been associated with stomach cancer, laryngitis, immune system suppression, enlargement of the heart and pleural abnormalities. The risk of these health problems increases with the amount of asbestos you are exposed to, the length of time you are exposed and the number of times you are exposed. It is still critical to be cautious when obtaining a sample, as a safe level of asbestos exposure has not been determined.
How to Take a Sample
To take an asbestos sample, first gather all the tools you will need for the job. You will require:
- A plastic drop cloth
- Coveralls or clothing you can dispose of
- A respirator with HEPA/p100 cartridge
- A ziplock bag or airtight container
- A permanent marker
- A full water spray bottle
- Dish soap
- A clean knife
- A damp paper towel
- A wet mop
- A plastic trash bag
Follow These Steps
Pull on your coveralls or change into your disposable clothing and respirator. Once you are dressed, go turn off any fans or heating and cooling devices that could blow air into your work area. Close the door to the room or otherwise secure the area so no one will accidentally stumble upon you while you are working.
When the area is secure, spread a drop cloth under the area you will be sampling. This makes cleanup easier. Open your container so you can drop your sample in easily once you have procured it. To obtain the sample, add some dish detergent to the water in your spray bottle and mix it well. With your bottle, spray the sample area until it is thoroughly saturated. This will help keep any asbestos fibers in place while you are working.
Once the surface is wet, use your knife to cut a sample of the material. The sample should be about the size of your thumbnail. Be sure to cut through every layer of the material so your sample is complete. Whenever possible, cut your sample from an existing hole or crack rather than creating a new one. Once the sample is free, immediately drop it into your airtight container or bag. Seal the container right away and wash the outside off with a damp paper towel. Wipe your knife and any other tools clean as well.
Remove your coveralls and wrap them in the plastic tarp. Wrap the paper towel and any other debris in the plastic as well before securing the plastic in a tightly closed trash bag. Immediately dispose of the trash bag. If there is any chance that you have left debris on the floor where you were working, clean the area thoroughly with a wet mop.
Once the area is clean and the trash disposed of, it is safe to remove your respirator. Use the marker to label the sample container with your name, address and the date. If you are taking more than one sample, label each one with the date and where it came from. When that is finished, take a thorough shower to remove any asbestos fibers that may be clinging to your skin or hair.
Where Does My Sample Go?
Once you have obtained and secured your sample, it is time to send it to a certified laboratory certified laboratory for testing. Contact the lab before submitting the sample. They will give you instructions on how to package and mail your submission for proper handling and delivery. When choosing a lab, be sure to select one that does testing only. It is a conflict of interest for a company to both test for and remove asbestos. For the most accurate results, use a lab that does testing only and hire a second company for remediation if necessary.
If asbestos is found, you will need to call a professional remediation team for help. This team will inspect your property and determine whether it is best to remove or enclose your asbestos based on your renovation plans as well as the type and location of the asbestos.