Device Instantly Reveals if Asbestos Is in Your Air

How differently things might have turned out for you if had you owned one of these 30 years ago when you worked as a blue-collar tradesman.

Coming soon is a portable detector that warns you when you are only a breath away from exposure to airborne asbestos.

The device is still in development, but the European Union-funded research team behind it expects to wrap up work on it before long.

Boon to Asbestos Safety

The asbestos detector would be a boon to worker safety and health by instantly revealing how much asbestos the air in a room contains.

Such an insight would be invaluable whether you are fixing up your older tract home or simply occupying a desk inside an aging office building or school.

Knowing how much asbestos is present could help workers take appropriate steps to protect themselves against mesothelioma, an unusually aggressive cancer that attacks the lining around the lungs, abdomen or heart.

The ability to be warned of imminent contact with the carcinogenic mineral could hold lifesaving potential not just for workers but for anyone who sets foot on or near a site where asbestos is in the air, explained project coordinator Alan Archer. Archer’s research team operates under the banner of an EU entity known as ALERT.

Previously, the only way to know if floating particles of asbestos were present was by collecting an air sample and shipping it to a laboratory for testing.

The results were reliable but not usually very prompt. Days, sometimes weeks, might pass before the lab could offer an answer.

Meanwhile, workers at the site would be left to wonder whether there was an asbestos problem. They might decide to take no chances and stay away. Wise, but unproductive.

Or they might decide to chance it and go inside. Unwise, even if work did get done.

The promise of the asbestos detector is that it will reveal in seconds if there is an asbestos threat and how serious, Archer enthused.

Uses Scattered Light to Detects Asbestos

The detector is formally known as the ALERT Rapid Asbestos Detection (ARAD) tool.

ARAD detects atmospheric asbestos fibers with the help of a light-scattering technique devised by Britain’s University of Hertfordshire.

This technique was developed nearly a quarter century ago. The reason it went nowhere and figuratively gathered (asbestos-free) dust on the shelf is that the technology was cost-prohibitive to use in the way ALERT researchers envision.

Advances in technology since those days now make it economically feasible to apply the light-scattering technique in the form of a hand-held instrument no bigger than a power drill.

Archer said ARAD prototypes are being developed for use by construction crews engaged in renovation or demolition of older structures.

And also for operators of waste sites; asbestos-containing debris is hauled there for proper disposal. Another prototype is for use by search-and-rescue teams that enter buildings damaged or toppled by earthquakes or bomb blasts.

“We hope this instrument will prompt a major change in the way the world addresses the dangers of asbestos, with the ultimate goal of saving lives,” said Archer.