Asbestos Overview

What is Asbestos?

asbestos fibersAny of several fibrous mineral forms of magnesium silicate. Asbestos is resistant to heat, flames, and chemical action. Some forms have been shown to cause lung diseases. For this reason, asbestos is no longer used to make insulation, fireproofing material, and brake linings.

  • Minerals possess high tensile strength, flexibility, resistance to chemical and thermal degradation, and electrical resistance
  • Used for decades in thousands of commercial products, such as insulation and fireproofing materials, automotive brakes and textile products, and cement and wallboard materials
  • Heavy exposures tend to occur in the construction industry and in ship repair, particularly during the removal of asbestos materials due to renovation, repairs, or demolition.
  • Workers are also likely to be exposed during the manufacture of asbestos products (such as textiles, friction products, insulation, and other building materials) and during automotive brake and clutch repair work
  • More than 75 types in America have been known to expose workers to Asbestos according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
  • Homes and apartments built before 1980 often are filled with asbestos, needing only normal wear and tear with age to dislodge the fibers and send them airborne
  • Lauded for its fire-proofing and insulating capabilities, asbestos was ubiquitous in military life. Ships, tanks, aircraft and trucks all contained asbestos. It was used for construction, maintenance and repair. Military bases were covered with asbestos-containing materials
  • About one-third of all mesothelioma victims in this country are military veterans
  • In 1973 Clarence Borel became the first plaintiff to hold a manufacturer of asbestos liable for injuries caused by its product. Attorney Ward Stephenson filed the lawsuit in the Eastern District of Texas against 11 asbestos manufacturers on Borel’s behalf, asking for $1 million. Borel had worked for 30 years in the shipyards and oil refineries along the Texas-Louisiana coast. In 1969, he was diagnosed originally with asbestosis and later mesothelioma.

The Six Types of Asbestos Minerals according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Include:

  • Chrysotile
  • Amosite
  • Crocidolite
  • Tremolite
  • Anthophyllite
  • Actinolite

Hazards of Asbestos:

Asbestos is well recognized as a health hazard and its use is now highly regulated by both OSHA and EPA.

  • Asbestos fibers associated with these health risks are too small to be seen with the naked eye
  • Breathing asbestos fibers can cause a buildup of scar-like tissue in the lungs called asbestosis and result in loss of lung function that often progresses to disability and death
  • Asbestos also causes cancer of the lung and other diseases such as mesothelioma of the pleura which is a fatal malignant tumor of the membrane lining the cavity of the lung or stomach
  • Epidemiologic evidence has increasingly shown that all asbestos fiber types, including the most commonly used form of asbestos, chrysotile, causes mesothelioma in humans
  • Learn more about how the Patient Advocates at the Mesothelioma Lawyer Center help patients affected by Mesothelioma:

Where can Asbestos be found?

Asbestos Beneath a Tile Floor

  • Attic and wall insulation produced containing vermiculite
  • Vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives
  • Roofing and siding shingles
  • Textured paint and patching compounds used on wall and ceilings
  • Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets
  • Hot water and steam pipes coated with asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape
  • Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets with asbestos insulation
  • Heat-resistant fabrics
  • Automobile clutches and brakes

What can be done to reduce the hazards of Asbestos?

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has determined that exposure to asbestos fibers causes cancer and asbestosis in humans and recommends that exposures be reduced to the lowest feasible concentration.

  • Worker exposure to asbestos hazards are addressed in specific OSHA standards for the construction industry, general industry and shipyard employment sectors
  • These standards reduce the risk to workers by requiring that employers provide personal exposure monitoring to assess the risk and hazard awareness training for operations where there is any potential exposure to asbestos
  • Airborne levels of asbestos are never to exceed legal worker exposure limits
  • There is no “safe” level of asbestos exposure for any type of asbestos fiber
  • Asbestos exposures as short in duration as a few days have caused mesothelioma in humans
  • Every occupational exposure to asbestos can cause injury of disease; every occupational exposure to asbestos contributes to the risk of getting an asbestos related disease
  • Where there is exposure, employers are required to further protect workers by establishing regulated areas, controlling certain work practices and instituting engineering controls to reduce the airborne levels
  • The employer is required to ensure exposure is reduced by using administrative controls and provide for the wearing of personal protective equipment
  • Medical monitoring of workers is also required when legal limits and exposure times are exceeded
To learn more about Asbestos testing and our related services please request information using the form here or call us at (877) 648-9150. Thank you!

Alternatives to Asbestos:

  • Polyurethane Foam
  • Amorphous Silica Fabric
  • Thermoset Plastic Flour
  • Flour Fillers
  • Cellulose Fiber

Polyurethane Foam:

  • Provides effective insulation
  • Often found in spray form
  • Builders, contractors and manufacturers are the most common users
  • Affordably priced for its function
  • One form of this material, known as flexible polyurethane foam, is used more frequently in consumer products. These products include furniture, bedding, carpet cushion, packaging and automotive parts

Amorphous Silica Fabric:

  • Satin weave inorganic chemically treated fabrics
  • Provide continuous higher temperature capability
  • Performance benefits of increased strength
  • Flexible
    • Used in the following products:

    • Outer Cover for Pillows in Expansion Joints
    • Reformer Seals and Insulation
    • Protective Coverings and Insulation of Investment Casting Molds
    • Furnace Curtains and Linings

Thermoset Plastic Flour:

  • Filled with wood flour and other low-priced fillers to reduce cost
  • Provides a balance of good insulation and strength
  • Mostly used in the building and construction industry
  • Energy saving and noise reduction purposes

Plastic Flour:

  • Pecan shell flour
  • Rice hull ash
  • Rice flour
  • Wheat flour
  • Completely natural, a great “green” option
  • Presents no hazards to those who are exposed to them

Cellulose Fiber:

  • Made from finely shredded newsprint
  • Generally made of 85 percent recycled content
  • Viable green option
  • Chemically treated to increase fire resistance and reduce mold

How to detect Asbestos:

Asbestos Removal and SamplingPLM: is the technique most often used for the analysis of bulk building materials. The light microscopy technique utilizes the unique features of polarized light to observe mineral specific optical properties. In this manner, PLM can differentiate asbestos from non-asbestos fibers and further classify the various species that compose the asbestos mineral family. Also, the technique records the identity of the non-asbestos fibrous component of each bulk building material sample.

PCM: Fast turnaround time and low cost. This light microscope technique operates at magnifications of 400X and will resolve fibers larger than 0.25 microns (um) in diameter. Not utilized to distinguish asbestos fibers from other fibers (ex: gypsum, mineral wool, fiberglass, cellulose etc.), but rather to give an overall reading of various types of fibers present in the sample. Consequently, an analysis by PCM indicating high fiber counts does not necessarily indicate the presence of asbestos. Likewise, low fiber counts by PCM cannot conclude an asbestos free environment. PCM merely provides an index of the total airborne fibers present in a given size range.

TEM: Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) represents the most sophisticated technology available for characterizing asbestos minerals. This technique is now the standard for most airborne investigations including post abatement clearance testing as well as diagnostic and environmental monitoring activities. Using magnifications routinely at 20,000X or greater and employing powerful chemical (EDXA) and mineralogical (SAEDP) tools, the TEM can differentiate, not only asbestos from non-asbestos fibers, but also can classify the several species that comprise asbestos minerals. The sample preparation and analysis process precludes turnaround time that would be available for PCM. The typical soonest TEM RUSH analysis on a set of AHERA samples can be conducted in four to six hours.

CARB 435: Asbestos analysis includes testing of rocks (and soils) for asbestos using the California Air Resource Board 435 (CARB 435) method. The CARB 435 method is a specialized method used for testing asbestos content in the serpentine aggregate storage piles, on conveyer belts, and on covered surfaces such as roads, play-yards, shoulders and parking lots. The method includes reporting the asbestos content by performing a 400 point count technique which has a detection limit of 0.25%.

References and Resources

Asbestos Services (please contact your Account Manager for pricing)

PLM Asbestos Analysis


  • NIOSH 7400 Test Code 3004

PLM Bulk

  • PLM Bulk Count (EPA Method 600/R93/116) Test Code 3002
  • ** $3 Charge for PLM’s With 3 or More Layers for 5 Day TAT
  • PLM Point Count 400 Test Code 3001
  • PLM Point Count 1000 Test Code 3001A
  • NOB PLM Analysis Test Code 3003

SOIL, ROCK & VERMICULITE (Subcontractor Laboratory)

  • PLM CARB 435
  • Dust Characterization
  • Particle Sizing ASTM D422-63
  • Soil Moisture ASTM D4643-00
  • PLM Vermiculite – Cincinnati Method

TEM (Analyzed by a Subcontractor Laboratory)

  • AHERA Method
  • NIOSH Method 7402
  • ISO 10312 – Air – Direct Transfer
  • ISO 10312 – Air – Indirect Transfer
  • Chatfield Method
  • Qualitative Bulk/Dust
  • Micro Vacuum (ASTM D-5755)
  • Non-Viable Friable – C
  • Bulk (Yes or No Only)
  • Bulk (% Chatfield) NY198.4
  • Bulk (%, By EPA Conventional*)
  • ASTM D-6480 (Wipe)
  • Water (EPA 100.2 Fibers >10 Microns)
  • PLM Vermiculite – Cinniciatti Method
To learn more about Asbestos testing and our related services please request information using the form here or call us at (877) 648-9150. Thank you!