Asbestos Analysis Methods

Asbestos TEM air sampling.

Asbestos PLM (Polarized Light Microscopy) – Bulk Sample Testing

The polarized light microscopy technique utilizes the unique features of polarized light to observe mineral specific optical properties. In this manner, PLM can differentiate asbestos from non-asbestos fibers and further classify the various species that compose the asbestos mineral family. Moreover, the technique records the identity of the non-asbestos fibrous component of each bulk building material sample.

The PLM procedure provides an economical technique for screening large numbers of samples. However, as with PCM, there are limitations to light microscopy testing due to the magnification (100-400X) employed and due to other interferences present in the building material matrix (ex: tar and petroleum binding components, sub-micron particulate adhering to the surface of an asbestos mineral, etc.).

PLM results are reported as a percentage of the total sample. PLM utilizes a few protocols for the quantification process. These include visual estimation and point counting. Depending on the sample matrix, PLM analytical sensitivity can be a fraction of a percent. Gravimetric reduction protocols (ELAP 198.1, EPA 600) further enhance this technique’s ability to accurately quantify and qualify asbestos.

The current method employed for these analyses is found in EPA 600/R-93/116. Other procedures are also utilized to supplement this method such as NIOSH 9002, and OSHA ID 191. Accreditation is primarily provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) through the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP).

TEM-microscopeAsbestos TEM (Transmission Electron Microscopy) – Air Sample Testing

Asbestos TEM air sampling uses electrons to create images, fine crystal patterns and analyzes the chemical makeup of fibers or structures encountered in the air sample.
The machinery required is not very mobile and is very sophisticated.

It magnifies objects at least 20 times their actual size. This method also is asbestos-specific. So specific that it can indicate the type of asbestos fibers in the air sample. This method is often used when there are interfering fibers which cause the PCM results to be very high but asbestos fibers are not suspected as the cause of their high-fiber count.

This method is most appropriate for final clearance samples either due to regulation (AHERA) or liability issues. By law, schools, etc., must use this method. This is also most appropriate for litigation and real estate transactions.

Asbestos TEM samples are considered the gold standard for asbestos air testing.


Asbestos PCM (Phase Contrast Microscopy) – Air Sampling

Asbestos PCM (Phase Contrast Microscopy) NIOSH 7400 Method samples use a light microscope to see fibers. The microscope can be hand carried. One of the advantages of this method is mobility. Samples can even be analyzed on-site, which decreases the turnaround time. The microscope magnifies objects approximately 400 times their actual size.

The main disadvantage of the Phase Contrast Microscopy methodology is that it is not asbestos specific.

The analyst counts any fiber that falls into a field of view that is greater than or equal to 5 μm in length, with a 3:1 aspect ratio (three times longer than its width).

You need to be aware of this when requesting that we use this type of sample analysis there are limitations. Items such as carpets, wood, fiberglass, and drywall can produce fibers that fall in this size range and will be counted along with asbestos fibers in determining exposure.