If you’re cruising along the highway, and find that your brakes are not working, you know you’re in trouble. But even working brakes can cause harm – if they contain asbestos.
Although asbestos is a mineral fiber that occurs naturally in rock and soil, it can be a threat to one’s health. Exposure to asbestos can increase one’s risk of developing lung disease, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other lung-related health issues.
For many years, it has been known that asbestos fibers can be released into the air by the disturbance of asbestos-containing material during demolition work, building or home maintenance, repair, and remodeling. The source of the hazard in many cases is insulation, roofing shingles, and tiles, especially in older homes. (You can learn more about asbestos on the U.S. EPA website.)
However, this potentially deadly fiber can be found in vehicles as well. Some automotive brakes and clutches in use today may contain asbestos. These fibers can withstand the high heats associated with the friction caused when braking, so it was initially thought to be a good choice for the auto industry – until the health hazard was discovered. Because the mineral is also widely available and economically feasible, brake components are still available on foreign, aftermarket products.
That’s a big concern to automotive technicians and home mechanics who repair and replace brakes and clutches because they may be exposed to asbestos dust when working on the vehicles. Unfortunately, the EPA also notes that you cannot tell whether brake or clutch components contain asbestos simply by looking at them. Because of the danger, the EPA has published Current Best Practices for Preventing Asbestos Exposure Among Brake and Clutch Repair Workers.
Asbestos in vehicles is a big concern to an Australian company that sells ex-military vehicles, vessels and equipment. Australian Frontline Machinery sells retired military vehicles to the public, so the company does all it can to ensure that both their own employees who work on the vehicles, and consumers who may work on the vehicles after they leave the plant, are safe. In the past, employees would have to suit up appropriately, take samples of the components suspected of containing asbestos, send them to the lab, and wait a few days to get the results.
However, the company has now invested in technology that allows them to test the component on the spot, see the results immediately, and then move on to the next vehicle. This handheld asbestos analyzer utilizes near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy, which enables in-field, rapid screening and identification of all six types of regulated asbestos fibers—chrysotile, crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite, actinolite and amosite—within seconds. Although it is a highly technical tool, it is designed for nontechnical users, so after a couple hours of initial training, testing can be done on the spot by the people working on the vehicles, which reduces the time and costs associated with outsourced laboratory testing. (Learn about NIR technology.)
In a video testimonial, the general manager of Australian Frontline Machinery explained how their operations utilize the analyzer on a daily basis, how they remove and dispose of the asbestos, and then replace the offending part. He believes they would not be able to operate the business as successfully without the flexibility of the handheld analyzer.
- Read the Thermo Scientific microPHAZIR AS Handheld Asbestos Analyzer product specification sheet.
- View the 3-minute video: