According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Geological Survey, over 1.2 million metric tons of raw asbestos are produced globally each year. Over-exposure to asbestos has been linked to mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer with a mortality rate of 0.8 cases per 100,000 people. Close to 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the U.S. each year. Asbestos testing is, therefore, necessary to protect the health and safety of occupants in a building. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also recommends asbestos testing and reporting on buildings that are undergoing renovations and on buildings that are fraying/ crumbling.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a type of mineral that is resistant to heat, fire, and electricity and is therefore used to offer insulation to buildings. When asbestos fibers are released into the air during renovations or when a building is fraying, they can be inhaled and this is a public health concern. Asbestos-containing materials are commonly found in ceilings, walls, tiles, and pipes.
Why is Asbestos Testing Important?
Asbestos can be extremely dangerous when inhaled. Exposure to asbestos is not only harmful to the lungs but it can also cause a form of childhood cancer known as mesothelioma. Consequently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set standards for ensuring that buildings and facilities, especially those that host children, comply with the acceptable asbestos fiber levels. Asbestos testing is necessary to protect the health and safety of occupants in a building as well as to comply with building codes & ethics and other regulations.
How is Asbestos Testing Conducted?
The most common method used to test for asbestos is the 1992 polarized light microscopy method which is simple and cost effective. EPA now recommends a newer and more specific method known as the updated transmission electron microscopy (TEM) analysis method. TEM yields precise analytical results and can easily detect low asbestos levels. It is therefore useful in ruling out false negative results. If a suspected material contains over 1% of asbestos after either test, then it is declared to be an asbestos containing material (ACM).
What Challenges are Associated with Asbestos Testing?
Asbestos testing presents two major challenges for laboratories; sample and data management as well as regulatory compliance.
Under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), laboratories that test for asbestos must be accredited by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) which is run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). After testing, the results must be reported to the NVLAP.
AHERA stipulates various requirements for asbestos testing such as the use of a “homogeneous sample” and “composite analysis” of “friable” or “non friable” material, all which testing laboratories must be familiar with.
Various samples must be collected for asbestos testing, as stipulated in 40 CFR part 763.
For miscellaneous material, 40 CFR part 763.86(c) states “In a manner sufficient to determine whether a material is asbestos-containing material (ACM) or not ACM, an accredited inspector shall collect bulk samples from each homogeneous area of friable miscellaneous material that is not assumed to be ACM.”
Environmental testing laboratories must keep track of all the asbestos samples throughout their entire life cycle as well as the related data. They must also ensure that the results are accurate and that they are shared with the relevant parties in a timely and efficient manner. Automation through a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) helps laboratories perform accurate asbestos testing with efficiency.
How Does an Environmental LIMS Support Asbestos Testing, Reporting, & Data Management?
An environmental LIMS helps automate the entire process of asbestos testing so that laboratories can increase their efficiency and throughput, and minimize human error. A LIMS helps laboratories securely track and manage asbestos testing data and share results with both clients and the NVLAP. With a LIMS in place, laboratories can manage different asbestos projects at the same time without compromising accuracy, operational efficiency, and data security.
Some Environmental LIMS features for entering Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM) results are as follows:
- Enables addition of user-defined sample types
- Makes calculations in real-time
- Allows for comments to be entered during analysis
- Supports generation of custom Certificates of Analysis (CoA)
Calculations are performed automatically as data is entered and this allows analysts to make quick observations and respond to them.
Environmental LIMS Supports Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM)-Based Asbestos Testing
A LIMS offers intuitive and user-friendly data entry screens that make it easy for analysts to enter TEM testing data. It provides an avenue for user-populated drop-down lists that make it easy to upload specific fibers and images from integrated sources. A LIMS supports the high specificity of TEM testing for asbestos.
A cloud-based LIMS solution can be deployed within 4-8 weeks depending on the instruments to be integrated, the staff to be trained, and the level of configuration that is required.
Asbestos testing provides an extra avenue for laboratories to support public health and safety as they also make profits. However, laboratories are likely to encounter a myriad of challenges related to asbestos testing and reporting. The most common challenges involve sample and data management as well as keeping up with the numerous regulatory requirements.
Environmental testing laboratories can leverage a LIMS to allow them to accession and manage samples. A LIMS eliminates human errors by automating data entry, performing calculations no sooner the data is entered, and expediting the generation and reporting of test results. Finally, a LIMS helps laboratories overcome regulatory hurdles with ease.