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Forensics & Environment

Asbestos is a mineral which was widely used as an insulator for many years around the world. If fibrous asbestos particles are inhaled they can cause problems in the lungs including lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. This means that when asbestos is suspected of being present it must be identified quickly and accurately so that its safe removal can be performed.


The asbestos group of minerals covers a range of different compositions but the common factor between all asbestos types is the fibrous nature of particles.  Given the list of potential negative effects of exposure to asbestos listed above, it is very important that exposure is kept to a minimum for all people.  When building works are being conducted, particularly the renovation of older buildings where asbestos may have been used, it is essential that it is rapidly determined whether or not asbestos is present.  This can be particularly important when works are stopped pending remediation of any asbestos issues.

The project managers of building work will often order the analysis of any suspect material and require information on what sort of asbestos is present and therefore what remediation techniques should be used.  As such, the task of the person testing for asbestos is to determine if asbestos is present and if so how much and of what type(s).  There is often a high time pressure on this job as work on building sites can, in certain cases be stopped until it is known what is happening with regard to asbestos.

A well established method for addressing this problem is the use of automated SEM + EDS to analyse the fibres – AZtecFeature.  Run times are optimised by using the aspect ratio of the particle to decide whether or not EDS analysis should be performed – so that only the particles/fibres of interest are studied.  Results are produced which show how many fibres of the dangerous types – with both asbestos composition and a very high aspect ratio – are found in a sample.

Once analysed, all of the information is available to either confirm, if no asbestos was found, that work can continue or, if it was, determine what sort of remediation should be performed.

Application Notes

Automated Analysis of Suspected Asbestos Fibres

The automated analysis of asbestos by scanning electron microscope (SEM) and energy dispersive X-ray spectrometry (EDS) is a powerful technique that enables the quantity, composition, and morphology of suspected asbestos fibres to be quickly measured.

Asbestos analysis in the TEM

Asbestos is a generic term used for two specific groups of mineral fibres that possess the common properties of having the ability to be spun into cloth that is both fire and acid resistant. It has also commonly been used as insulation materials in buildings and fillers in tiles and roofing materials. It was also widely used in the automotive industry for brake pads.


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