Whether it’s a small home renovation or a commercial construction project, accurately determining the presence of asbestos is a critical part of managing the risk of exposure to both workers and the community. When the presence of asbestos is suspected, construction projects can be put on hold, costing time and money. Therefore, the rapid and accurate classification of unknown fibers is critical.
To test suspected fibers, two of the techniques asbestos labs traditionally use include Phase Contrast Microscopy (PCM) and Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM) to identify asbestos types. While these optical microscopy methods can evaluate the morphology of fibers, they can’t determine the elemental composition, which can lead to the misclassification of materials. As a result, construction projects can experience long delays while construction workers complete costly material removal projects that may be unnecessary.
To effectively test for asbestos, a growing number of labs are turning to scanning electron microscopes with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) capabilities as an alternative to PCM and PLM testing. Using SEM-EDS, researchers can rapidly identify the chemical composition of fibers and obtain the high-resolution images needed to determine the fiber morphology. This increases the certainty of their analyses, helps reduce costs and accelerates completion of construction projects.
High-resolution image of Bulk Crocidolite asbestos obtained using the Thermo Scientific XL G2 Desktop SEM.
In the past, both the cost and complexity of SEM-EDS were prohibitive for budget-sensitive asbestos labs. With the introduction of modern, easy-to-use desktop SEMs with built-in EDS capabilities, this technology is attainable.
For example, an asbestos testing company in Australia recently upgraded its lab to include our Thermo Scientific Phenom XL G2 Desktop SEM equipped with an optional EDS detector. The intuitive user interface requires minimal training, allowing users to start analyzing samples once it’s installed. The Phenom XL G2 delivers high-throughput sample analysis with a time-to-image of just 60 seconds. It also offers AsbestoMetric, a software package for asbestos testing which complies with ISO 14966. Similarly, when researchers are required to analyze a large area of a sample, AsbestosScan can be used to systematically guide the operator to inspect their sample.
Since implementing the Phenom XL G2 Desktop SEM, this company has become one of only a few Australian asbestos labs to receive accreditation for the classification of airborne asbestos fibers using SEM-EDS from the Australian National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA). Moreover, they have significantly boosted their competitive advantage by achieving more accurate test results for their customers than traditional can methods provide.
With the Phenom XL G2 Desktop SEM, asbestos labs can increase the certainty of their asbestos testing analyses. Ultimately, they can improve their competitive advantage by helping customers reduce construction project costs while increasing the safety of workers and community residents.
>> Learn more about the Phenom XL G2 Desktop SEM.
Willem van Zyl is an application engineer at Thermo Fisher Scientific.