Airborne asbestos fibres detected by light scattering in real time

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  • Published: May 6, 2013
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: UV/Vis Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: Airborne asbestos fibres detected by light scattering in real time

Scientists in the UK have developed a system to distinguish asbestos fibres in the air from other fibres in real time, which they hope will lead to a device for protecting workers in the field. Paul Kaye and colleagues from the University of Hertfordshire showed that the degree of alignment of fibres in a magnetic field that is measured by light scattering discriminates between fibre types, as they discussed in Optics Express.

With the initial single-beam system, asbestos fibres could be distinguished from other types of airborne particles such as dust. However, asbestos could be confidently identified only in cases where the proportion of non-asbestos fibres was less than that of the asbestos, so a dual-beam system was tried out. This proved to have a greater discriminatory power due to its ability to determine the alignment of the fibres before they entered the magnetic field and after they exited.

Crocidolite fibres can be detected in the presence of other fibres like gypsum, glass and mineral wool with 99% confidence when they make up at least 11% of the total fibre content in an aerosol. The same degree of confidence was achieved for chrysotile fibres when their population was at least 45% of the total fibre content.

In field testing where the absence or presence of asbestos fibres was already known, the device gave the correct response. Its continued development towards a low-cost, mobile system will provide a warning system when workers inadvertently encounter asbestos, for instance when drilling into walls.

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