One of the most alarming dangers of asbestos is that the mineral fibers aren’t immediately noticeable. They’re odorless, and they’re usually too small to see once they’re airborne. This is incredibly terrifying because there’s no known safe level of asbestos exposure, and it only takes a small amount of the material to lead to potentially deadly disease.
This is exactly why a team of scientists from the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K. decided to invent a new tool that, one day, may help workers all over the world, including carpenters, ship breakers, electricians and automotive brake specialists, easily detect asbestos.
How do you know something has asbestos right now?
For thousands of years, people used asbestos because its physical properties make it strong, fireproof and resistant to heat. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that responsible companies and governments started paying attention to scientific studies linking asbestos use to diseases such as malignant mesothelioma and lung cancer.
The use of asbestos has been somewhat reduced in the U.S. Though new manufacturing uses are forbidden, it’s still allowed in several items, including cement products. Additionally, asbestos is still present in many older buildings that were constructed using such materials.
Today, if it’s unclear whether the air at a work site contains asbestos fibers, trained professionals filter air samples, count any fibers and use X-rays to identify them. An alternative method is to use fiber detecting tools that work in real-time. However, these approaches are often time-consuming or nonspecific.
A new tool may come in less than two years
The idea that there may be a more convenient tool to detect asbestos is really exciting to us at Kazan Law, which is why we were so thrilled to read the story from the University of Hertfordshire. A team of scientists from the School of Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics was motivated to get on the case after looking at the numbers.
Here’s what researcher Paul Kaye had to say:
“Many thousands of people around the world have died from asbestos fiber inhalation. Even today, long after asbestos use was banned in most Western countries, there are many people who become exposed to asbestos that was used in buildings decades earlier, and these people too are dying from that exposure.”
More specifically, the World Health Organization estimates that every year, more than 107,000 lives are lost because of asbestos exposure in the workplace.
Together, Kaye and his team turned to an old concept developed by an American scientist who pointed out that asbestos fibers have unique magnetic properties. The researchers then created a gadget that uses a combination of lasers and magnetic fields to detect asbestos. The advantage to this tool is that it can be used in real-time.
The target price for the first available products in the U.K. and Spain is between $700 and $800, projected to be released 12 to 18 months from now. But if production is successful, that price will go down.
In the meantime, vulnerable workers need to remember that the permissible exposure limit for asbestos is 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter averaged over an eight-hour shift, or 1 fiber per cubic centimeter averaged over 30 minutes. If your job exceeds these limits, your employer is required to provide you with adequate protection, such as respirators, full-body clothing, face shields and vented goggles.