When it comes to asbestos exposure, a little bit goes a long way in a very bad way. It takes only a tiny spec of asbestos fiber too small to be seen by the human eye to cause a lethal amount of asbestos exposure if regularly inhaled into the lungs over time. Then it takes decades for symptoms of mesothelioma, the fatal lung disease caused by asbestos exposure, to emerge. And by the time it is diagnosed, it is usually too late.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful then to have a way to instantly test an environment for the presence of asbestos before any harmful asbestos exposure takes place? It could potentially save the lives of thousands of construction workers, firefighters, factory employees, home repair contractors and DIY home renovators. And maybe eventually decrease the number of new mesothelioma cases diagnosed in the United States each year from its current 3000 to a much lower rate.
Maybe this will be possible with a new tool invented in a university laboratory in England that promises to detect minute asbestos particles in an indoor environment.
As reported in a Canadian business journal, researchers at the University of Hertfordshire have developed a new tool to detect airborne asbestos on any worksite without the need to send air samples to a laboratory for testing.
The sensor, which uses lasers and magnets to identify asbestos particles, reportedly will be commercially available next year under the trade name Asbestos Alert.
Research on the project began over 20 years ago as an effort to identify airborne biological particles such as spores and fungi. Someone suggested to the researchers that they try using the device to test for asbestos fibers in the air as well.
The Hertfordshire team produced a half-dozen working prototypes that were sent to various construction sites for real world testing by companies specializing in asbestos removal. The final working design will be small enough to be portable to any site.
“When the machine alerts the user with an audible or visual signal, it’s 99 per cent certain that the air around you contains asbestos,” said researcher Paul Kaye, a professor at the Center for Atmospheric and Instrumentation Research at the University of Hertfordshire, “At that point, the worker can choose to either put on a mask or pack up the tools and leave the work area. I know which one I’d do.”