A new method of sample preparation, developed by a group of US scientists, promises to increase the sensitivity of asbestos analysis 100-fold, to the point where it can be used to detect the substance in soil.
Although at a low level, asbestos contamination in soil is of potential concern. If such soil is disturbed by human activity or weather conditions, asbestos can be released into the air, where it can become an on-going source of exposure and a risk to public health.
Current methods of asbestos detection are geared towards the analysis of building materials and are not sensitive enough to be applied to soil, but this new sample preparation method promises sensitivity down to levels as low as 0.002% by weight.
The technique uses a fluidised bed asbestos segregator (FBAS), which employs air elutriation to separate asbestos particles from heavier material and deposit them on a filter. This filter can then be analysed using microscopy techniques, such as TEM. The FBAS unit itself is compact and portable, lending itself to use in a standard laboratory fume hood.