Asbestos is often used as a buzzword to reference dangerous materials that can be found in your home. But how many people actually know what asbestos is and what exposure can do to the health and safety of you and your loved ones?

The effects of asbestos exposure are serious and can be harmful or even deadly. Luckily, asbestos, and the danger it poses, can be removed. But in order to do that, testing must occur first to understand if there’s asbestos in your home and how much.

Keep reading to learn more about why asbestos air testing is so critical and the most common types of tests.

What is Asbestos?

ray of sun peeping through a window in the attic

Asbestos can be defined as a fibrous silicate mineral. In the mid-20th century, asbestos became a popular material used in the construction of almost all residential and commercial buildings due to its insulating and heat-resistant properties. Therefore, many older homes and buildings (generally those built before the 1980s) contain asbestos in various areas such as basements, attics, vinyl flooring, siding, drywall, and more.

Types of Asbestos

While most people have heard of asbestos, and are generally aware that it poses a certain amount of danger, few people are aware that there are multiple categories. There are six types of asbestos in total: chrysotile, amosite crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite. While they differ in certain ways, each type is composed of long fibrous crystals that can escape into the surrounding air and cause serious harm to human health.

Effects of Asbestos on Human Health

doctor looking at an x-ray of a chest to see if patient was exposed to asbestos

So what exactly are the effects of asbestos exposure? Most of the long and short-term effects involve damage to the lungs and your ability to breathe. But there are many other ways in which asbestos can harm your health.

1) Short-Term Effects of Asbestos Exposure

Not everyone will experience immediate symptoms of asbestos exposure right away. In fact, in most cases, symptoms of exposure don’t begin to develop until months, or even years, after. However, due to the negative effects that these symptoms can have on your quality of life, and the fact that they can be a sign of a more critical issue, it’s important to know the signs and short-term symptoms of exposure to the material, including:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Chronic cough
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced appetite
  • Difficulty or discomfort when swallowing

2) Long-Term Effects of Asbestos Exposure

The effect that asbestos can have on your health and well-being is no laughing matter. The short-term effects of asbestos exposure are unpleasant, and they are often a sign of a serious health problem. Exposure to asbestos, especially on a long-term basis, can result in the formation of serious (and potentially fatal) health conditions, including:

  • Lung cancer 
  • Mesothelioma 
  • Asbestosis
  • Pleural disease

Of course, any type of exposure is dangerous to human health; however, certain factors such as the duration of exposure, amount of fibers in the air, existing health conditions, and current habits of the individual will affect the level of danger. Regardless of mitigating factors, anyone who believes they have been exposed to asbestos of any kind should visit their doctor to assess any potential damage.

Testing for Asbestos in the Air

testing for asbestos in the wall of a residential home

If you have reason to suspect that your home may be exposing you to asbestos, then proper air testing is crucial to identify the problem and find a solution. Prior to air testing, the first step is to conduct limited bulk asbestos sampling, or possibly a full home survey, to identify which building materials contain this potential hazard.  If asbestos is located, and deemed damaged or friable, then air testing can be performed to determine if fibers are airborne, therefore posing a health threat. An official air test will not only identify if there are respirable airborne fibers, but can also determine what type of asbestos is present depending upon the type of air test you have conducted. 

 

Types of Asbestos Air Testing

There are two primary methods used in asbestos air testing: phase-contrast microscopy (PCM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Here is a basic rundown of how each of these methods work, and their advantages and disadvantages.

1) Phase Contrast Microscopy (PCM)

PCM is the most common type of testing that can be done due to its convenience and relatively low cost. It is achieved by utilizing a microscope to identify the number of fibers in the surrounding area. The advantage of PCM is that it is simple, quick, and the results of the test can often be disclosed onsite by the surveyor, especially if you’re tight on time. On the downside, while PCM is an effective testing method to determine the concentration of airborne respirable fibers (those of a certain length and width), it’s not as accurate as TEM because it does not differentiate between asbestos fibers and other types, such as fiberglass or cellulose, commonly used in building materials.  If a significant concentration of fibers is determined to be present using PCM, then the more robust TEM air testing method can be used to determine which portion of those fibers actually contain asbestos.  

2) Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM)

TEM is a more accurate, but much more expensive and timely option. It utilizes a far more powerful electron microscope to accurately identify the type and concentration of asbestos fibers in the air. However, due to its superior technology, it’s more costly, and results often take several days to come back.

What to Do if You Suspect Your Home May Contain Asbestos

If you think you’ve been exposed to asbestos fibers, it’s important to get testing done as soon as possible, and to visit your physician if you experience any potential symptoms. You can also visit Oregon.gov to learn more about asbestos and its effect on humans.

 

At JSE Labs, we have extensive experience testing for potentially hazardous materials in your home, including asbestos, mold, and lead. With our experienced team of experts, we know what it takes to keep your family safe from the danger of harmful household materials. You can drop off or mail your sample or get in touch to schedule an in-home visit to have our experts collect your sample for you.