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How to Test for Asbestos

4 Feb 2019
Derek Crippin

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral substance found in rock and soil and is resistant to heat and electricity. It can be pulled it into a fibrous, fluffy consistency so for many years, it was used widely in flooring, ceilings, insulation and concrete in homes and industrial buildings.

The extremely abrasive and microscopic fibrils in asbestos are invisible to the naked eye, so you could be exposed to it without ever knowing.

Why Asbestos Tests are Important

Asbestos can be deadly when inhaled, and should you find it in your home, take steps to lower the chance of it contaminating the whole house. Asbestos has been proven to cause severe lung damage and is a known carcinogen.

For this reason, it is vital that you understand how to test for asbestos before doing construction on any property. Before any demolition project can take place, you or a professional must take steps to confirm that there is no asbestos on-site.

Since asbestos cannot be detected with the naked eye and can be in a wide variety of material on the property, it is important to test for the substance before you do any work that might disturb and release it.

Who can Test for Asbestos?

Asbestos is dangerous enough to require serious protection even just for taking samples of it. Some states in the US do not also allow you to gather the material to send for testing yourself and require that EPA certified contractors conduct all tests.

Check your state’s laws on asbestos testing and removal before attempting it as your next DIY project. If it's legal where you live, you can purchase an asbestos testing kit for around $50.

Step-by-Step Guide to Testing for Asbestos

For your safety and long-term health, take extreme caution when testing for asbestos. If you are at all unsure of your ability to carry it out testing safely, you should have an EPA-certified contractor handle it.

1. The first step in asbestos testing involves ensuring that the air in the space where you are testing is still. Making sure to close all windows and shut off all fans, heaters and air conditioning systems.

Do not attempt to clean any area or item that you wish to test as there could be asbestos particles in the dust on the surface of the area.

2. Once you have ensured that the air in the space is “dead” and all the dust has settled, you can equip all of the necessary protective gear. Make sure that you cover your body from head to toe.

Safety gear should include:

  • Face mask/respirator
  • Gloves
  • Coveralls or full body clothing that covers all skin surfaces
  • Shoe protectors
  • Eye protection (mask/goggles)

All protective equipment that you wear during testing will need to be thrown away afterward.

3. Once your safety equipment is on, you can enter the testing area and begin to prep by laying down plastic sheeting on the ground that will catch any potential asbestos particles that fall.

4. Next, spray the whole testing area down with water using some misting or squirt bottle. When all of the surfaces are wet, and the air is humid, you can ensure that any dust created will quickly diminish.

5. Working as carefully as possible, use a utility knife or a chisel to carefully break away a piece of the object or material that you wish to test. Using extreme caution will help to minimize dust residue breaking off.

6. Using your same misting bottle from before, spray down the piece that you broke off to settle any dust. Make sure that the sample size that you obtain is between 5 and 100 grams in weight.

7. Using a pair of pliers, drop the sample into a Ziploc bag and immediately seal it up. On the outside of the bag, be sure to note information about the sample including; where it was taken from, when and what it is. Slip that bag inside another zipper bag and seal that one up as well to ensure it is secured.

8. Now you can start to clean up the area. Very carefully, gather up the plastic sheeting and drop it into a plastic garbage bag and seal the top of the bag with tape to securely trap any fibers on the inside.

9. Next, vacuum the area thoroughly with a vacuum that uses a bag. (A bagless vacuum will potentially leave a residue on the inside of your vacuum and contaminate it.) Be sure to throw the used vacuum bag in a plastic garbage bag when you are done and seal it up.

You can also take another wet rag and wipe down the area where you took the sample from and dispose of that rag as well. Apply a coat of heavy duty paint directly to the area where you collected the sample. The paint will help seal in any leftover particles and prevent them from flaking off.

10. Finally, remove all of your protective gear and immediately throw into a trash bag and seal it off with tape. Take a shower to rinse off anything that may have been in contact your skin.

Submitting Your Asbestos Sample

At this point, you are ready to submit your asbestos sample to an EPA-approved laboratory for testing. To find a testing center near you, you can check the EPA’s website which will also have detailed instructions for how to safely and adequately submit your sample.

An asbestos submission by a homeowner can take a month or more to process, so it is essential that you build this time into your project deadlines as you should not start any work that could disturb the interior of the building before you have the results of your test.

If you have a tighter deadline, samples collected by professionals are usually tested within 48 hours of collection, so professional services can save you a lot of time.

If your results test positive for asbestos, contact an EPA-certified contractor to begin the asbestos removal process since removing and disposing of asbestos requires a special license in most states.

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