Beware of Microbiology Laboratories Entering the Asbestos Testing Marketplace
In recent years, the increased awareness of potential health effects of exposure to airborne mold created many testing laboratories that focused solely on mold analysis. Many of these laboratories are now attempting to diversify into the well established asbestos analysis market.
The business practice of integrating into other areas of a particular field is a common practice in many industries. Unfortunately, many of these laboratories do not have the proper base of experienced asbestos professionals to guarantee quality data. The market is currently flooded with numerous advertisements from various laboratories promoting these new services, however in many cases more effort is placed into marketing asbestos than establishing a high quality asbestos laboratory staffed with experienced and knowledgeable asbestos professionals.
This practice translates into poor quality analysis and a fundamental lack of understanding of the many nuances of complex asbestos methodologies and regulations that have evolved over the past 30 years. In a recent example illustrating this issue, a laboratory previously focused solely on microbiology services disseminated a marketing piece titled, “Asbestos Identification and Quantification in Bulk Samples”. It contained very basic information such as “What is asbestos” and “How does a microscopist identify asbestos in bulk material”, with most of the text recited from mineralogy references.
The laboratory reveals a lack of technical expertise and knowledge in the section discussing analytical methods. They incorrectly state and advise that in analyzing bulk samples, two alternatives, Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) will, “produce a more accurate quantification”. Knowledgeable asbestos analytical professionals understand that while TEM and SEM possess the advantage of greater magnification and other tools that aid in asbestos identification such as elemental analysis via Energy Dispersive X-Ray Analysis (EDXA) for example, electron microscopy (EM) is not necessarily better and in fact in many cases is less accurate than Polarized Light Microscopy in quantifying asbestos concentrations. This is due to the high magnifications employed in SEM and especially TEM.
In one of the more egregious mis-statements of the article, the author actually tells the reader that X-Ray Diffraction (XRD) is a component of TEM that allows for fiber identification. The author obviously is not familiar with the fundamentals of TEM as XRD is not a component of TEM and is a stand alone analytical instrument and technique. We believe the author confused XRD with the proper citation, Selected Area Electron Diffraction (SAED) which is a component of TEM. XRD refers typically to Powder or Polycrystalline X-ray Diffraction. With this technique a powdered sample is illuminated with x-rays of a fixed wave-length and the intensity and angles of the reflected radiation is recorded using a goniometer. Electron diffraction is a powerful technique available with TEM. Unlike X-Ray diffraction the illumination used here is electrons. The electron beam used has a wavelength much smaller than the X-Rays used for XRD. And the electrons are transmitted through the sample not reflected. Incidentally it is the TEM’s ability to produce electron diffraction patterns that make it and not the SEM the instrument of choice for asbestos analysis.
In addition to the above, there are other incorrect statements such as:
1. The magnification ranges stated for SEM and PLM point counting techniques.
2. EDXA is said to provide ratios of chemicals present. This is incorrect, this method provides elemental analysis, not chemical.
3. EDXA is said to allow a microscopist to differentiate asbestos from non-asbestos. This is incorrect as there are non-asbestos minerals with identical chemistry to every regulated asbestos type.
This information is intended to make customers aware that depth of resources, years of experience and qualified staff are all essential components to receiving quality and accurate asbestos results. Many decisions that effect human health are made upon asbestos analytical data and one cannot assume that by virtue of a laboratory possessing asbestos certifications guarantees legally defensible data.
EMSL has been providing asbestos analysis for over 25 years and has been a pioneering force in shaping the asbestos analysis industry. EMSL employs many asbestos experts that have 20+ years of experience in the asbestos analysis industry. To learn more about asbestos analysis or EMSL please visit www.emsl.com, call 800.220.3675 or email email@example.com.
About EMSL Analytical, Inc.
EMSL Analytical is a leading, national provider of environmental and materials testing services and products to professionals and the general public. The company has an extensive list of accreditations from leading organizations as well as state and federal regulating bodies.
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- EMSL Analytical, Inc.
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