Processing asbestos floor tile to examine its contents

Asbestos Test Sample Collection & Preparation for Lab Test Submission
How to collect a sample of flooring, insulation, or other products suspected of containing asbestos

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Asbestos test sample collection procedure: how should you collect a material sample to send to an asbestos testing laboratory? This article includes asbestos sample collection procedures and photographs, sample preparation for submission to an appropriate asbestos testing or forensic laboratory to identify asbestos materials (or probable-asbestos) in flooring and floor tiles, insulation, or other products and materials suspected of containing asbestos.

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Asbestos Test Sample Collection Procedures

Reader Question: What is the Best Way to Collect an Asbestos-Suspect Material Sample for Testing

Photograph of  asbestos paper wrap on heating/cooling duct exteriorWe have a large amount of insulation and a few other materials in our home that we suspect are or contain asbestos and would like to know the proper way to collect a sample to send to an asbestos testing lab. - Anon. 5/30/12

Reply: U.S. EPA Advice summarized - How To Collect Asbestos Test Samples of Materials That May Contain Asbestos

In some cases, such as where you may be facing a large or costly cleanup, tests to confirm that asbestos-suspect material really is asbestos-containing are appropriate.

An example is certain floor tiles that need to be demolished, of an age and pattern that may or may not be asbestos-containing. Below we have adapted, expanded, and commented on the advice below from the U.S. EPA's Asbestos in the Home[10]

You can't tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it, unless it is labeled. If in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos ["Presumed Asbestos Containing Material - PACM] or have it sampled and analyzed by a qualified professional.

A professional should take samples for analysis, since a professional knows what to look for, and because there may be an increased health risk if fibers are released. In fact, if done incorrectly, sampling can be more hazardous than leaving the material alone. Taking samples yourself is not recommended.

If you nevertheless choose to take the samples yourself, take care not to release asbestos fibers into the air or onto yourself. Material that is in good condition and will not be disturbed (by remodeling, for example) should be left alone.

Only material that is damaged or will be disturbed should be sampled. Anyone who samples asbestos-containing materials should have as much information as possible on the handling of asbestos before sampling, and at a minimum, should observe the following procedures:

  • Isolate the area: Make sure no one else is in the room when sampling is done.
  • Personal protection: Wear disposable gloves or wash hands after sampling.
  • Still air conditions: Shut down any heating or cooling systems to minimize the spread of any released fibers.
  • Minimize asbestos-suspect material disturbance: Do not disturb the material any more than is needed to take a small sample.
  • Floor protection & ease of clean-up: place a plastic sheet on the floor below the area to be sampled.
  • Wet the asbestos-suspect material using a fine mist of water containing a few drops of detergent before taking the sample. The water/detergent mist will reduce the release of asbestos fibers. Also

Processing asbestos floor tile to examine its contents

  • Obtain a piece of asbestos-suspect material: carefully cut a piece from the entire depth of the material using, for example, a small knife, corer, or other sharp object. Place the small piece into a clean container (for example, a 35 mm film canister, small glass or plastic vial, or high quality resealable plastic bag).

    Watch out: while this is good asbestos test sample preparation advice for products such as asbestos paper duct wrap or possibly pipe insulation, at least for some materials such as flooring, in our OPINION this EPA step is incorrect in that it recommends using a knife or corer to cut the asbestos-suspect test sample for lab submission for two reaons:

    • First: using a corer or knife on some materials creates and releases particles unnecessarily while carefully breaking a fragment, such as of vinyl asbestos flooring or floor tile, is less disruptive

    • Second: breaking a corner of flooring material or floor tile (for example) leaves fibers exposed for immediate microscopic examination in the laboratory.

      In the lab, following Walter McCrone's procedure for teasing out asbestos particles from solid materials such as this floor tile, we broke a small corner off for further examination by microscope.

      Tiles are broken, not cut, in order to expose asbestos fibers for removal, slide preparation, and microscopic examination using transmitted, reflected, and primarily polarized-light central stop diffusion microscopy.

      At ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE LAB PROCEDURES we describe how a sample of flooring is prepared for laboratory analysis for asbestos using McCrone's recommendations.

  • Tightly seal the container after the sample is in it.
  • Carefully dispose of the plastic sheet. Use a damp paper towel to clean up any material on the outside of the container or around the area sampled. Dispose of asbestos materials according to state and local procedures.
  • Label the container with an identification number and clearly state when and where the sample was taken.
  • Patch the sampled area with the smallest possible piece of duct tape to prevent fiber release.
  • Send the sample to an EPA-approved laboratory for analysis. The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) has a list of these laboratories. You can get this list from the Laboratory Accreditation Administration, NIST, Gaithersburg, MD 20899 (telephone 301-975-4016). Your state or local health department may also be able to help.

- Adapted from advice from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [10]



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