Asbestos Tests: Fact and Fiction

Myth! The fact is that not all asbestos tests are created equally. There are various testing methods, and the right one for the job depends on the material being tested. In addition to professional testing options, there are several at home testing kits available to help you conduct your own test. Though the home testing option is certainly cheaper—it does not mean you will get a result you can trust.

At Home Testing Options

There are a variety of at home testing options to choose from. You can find an at home test for any budget—tests are available for under $20 and tests are available for more than $100. Price is not always a reflection of quality. The price you pay for the test may or may not include the price of the lab fee required for analysis.

Some at home tests provide instant results. While this may be helpful if you need to know an answer right now, it is important to remember that the instant results may not be as accurate as a test sent to a lab.

At home tests sent to a lab for analysis may not go to a lab certified to handle asbestos analysis. Make sure the lab mentioned in the product is accredited and certified so you can trust the results.

At home test results require you to collect your own sample. When not done correctly, this could cause contamination. Since the fibers cannot be seen with the eyes, it is impossible to tell whether or not the area has been contaminated. Carefully obtain the sample, ensuring other areas of the home are blocked off, heating and cooling systems are off, and you are alone.

Professional Testing Services

This is the safest bet when it comes to asbestos testing, but even professional testing services will send the samples to labs, which will use a variety of different testing methods based on the sample and the situation that lead to the test. The possible testing methods include:

  • Phase Contrast Microscopy (PCM): This method is commonly used to test the asbestos levels in the air at an asbestos abatement site. It is a low cost test and is powerful in the sense that it can find incredibly small fibers—smaller than the width of a human hair. However, it cannot tell you the difference between asbestos and non-asbestos fibers in the air—just that fibers are present. A low reading doesn’t mean asbestos isn’t present, while a high reading doesn’t mean asbestos is present.
  • Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM): This method uses the best technology available on the market today, and is often used to test soil. This can tell the difference between asbestos and non-asbestos fibers, while also producing results within four to six hours of sample testing.
  • Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM): This method is commonly used to test for presence of asbestos in building materials, because of its use of light to look through the materials on the microscopic level. Because of this, it can tell the difference between asbestos based materials and non-asbestos based material, while also distinguishing the other chemicals that form asbestos. The flaw in this testing method is that the presence of other substances such as tar can interfere with the test results.

When it comes to asbestos testing, you can typically take samples on your own and send it in to a lab for analysis, it is ideal to use professional services to ensure the test results are accurate, and the sample is collected safely and properly. The professionals will also know which testing method to use in the lab to get you the most accurate results possible.

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