top of page

How to test air quality for asbestos?

Is the air you are breathing clean? At times, you can tell it by your senses. But sometimes, you need air quality tests to identify pollutants like asbestos. Asbestos fibers are invisible to your naked eye and are odorless. Prolonged exposure can lead to lung damage and cancer. Read on to find out how to test air quality for asbestos. Knowing that your air is clean means safety to your family.

Here's an overview of this article:

  • Good air quality boosts your health.

  • How asbestos is used in building materials

  • Health effects of asbestos fibers

  • What to know about asbestos air testing in New York City

Good air quality boosts your health

Good air quality of clean air is strongly connected to good health and well-being including:

  • Cleans your lungs. Your lungs directly catch beneficial elements like oxygen and air pollutants like asbestos. Breathing in the fresh air makes the lungs dilate and keeps them clean and healthy.

Plus, you can avoid adverse symptoms from breathing in air pollutants. They include irritation to your air passages resulting in sneezing, wheezing, chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing, asthma, and cancer.

  • It can help keep your heart strong. Good indoor air quality makes the heart healthier. Scientific studies consistently show that air pollution has adverse effects on cardiac function. The latest is new research published by the Journal of the American Heart Association reveals that air pollutants trigger irregular heart rhythms in healthy teens,

  • Good energy levels. Clean air keeps your body parts, especially the vital organs, functioning more efficiently. It means increased energy levels, good digestion, low heart rate, and healthy lung capacity.

Keeping good quality of air ensures your family of health and safety. Make sure your family is safe from Invisible, odorless, and hard-to-detect air pollutants such as asbestos by having your indoor air quality tested by professionals in your area.

How asbestos is used in building materials

Your home is where you can put your feet up and relax. It is your haven and protection against harmful elements outside your home. Making it strong and well-built requires it to have quality materials. At this point is where asbestos comes into the picture.

Asbestos use in ancient times

Asbestos is a fibrous silicate mineral that naturally occurs in rocks and soils. Its usefulness and resilience as a fire-resistant material have been known for centuries. The Greeks named it 'abestinon"', meaning unquenchable because it remains intact. Its fibers were spun into cloth for blankets and tablecloths.

Noteworthy is the use of asbestos cremation shrouds during cremation ceremonies to cover corpses. It is the only thing that does not catch fire during cremation and contains the ash of the remains after the ceremony.

Modern-age use of asbestos

In the 19th century, large deposits of asbestos were found in parts of Canada and north of the United States. It spurred the mass production of asbestos-containing construction materials.

The discovery of more uses of asbestos came soon after. As an excellent fire retardant, it was made into:

  • fire resistant clothing for firefighters

  • hot pads in cooking

  • thermal insulation

So widespread was its use that everyday products were made with asbestos. Check out this list:

  • kitty litter

  • Makeup

  • cigarette filters

  • talcum powder

  • automotive parts for brakes, brake linings, and clutches

The adverse health effects of asbestos fibers were discovered in the early 1970s. Its widespread use slowed down, and substitutes were developed. That is why at present, many older homes, schools, and buildings still contain asbestos materials.

Present use of asbestos

The banning on asbestos started in 1983 in Iceland. Other countries followed suit and are now numbering more than 55 countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) actively campaigns to ban asbestos because of evidence of a high incidence of occupational cancer.

In the U.S., asbestos mining was banned in 2002, while importing small amounts of products containing up to 1% of asbestos is legal. So, when you see products labeled "asbestos-free", they may still contain asbestos. The U.S. imports from countries actively mining and exporting asbestos, such as Russia, China, and India.

The ban's impact is slow because asbestos abatement is costly and hazardous. Plus, safer substitutes are less recognized in the market compared to asbestos.

Health effects of asbestos fibers

Overall evidence in scientific studies suggests that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have declared asbestos as a known human carcinogen. A human carcinogen is a substance that can cause cancer of the lungs, larynx, ovary, and the cancer of thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen or mesothelioma.

Asbestos exposure

Most people are exposed to low levels of asbestos because it naturally occurs in air, water, and soil. And it is safe if undisturbed. But if you reside or work in a building constructed before 1987, it most likely contains asbestos and will need fixing, reconstruction, or remodeling, the disturbance of Asbestos Containing Materials (ACM) is inevitable.

Below are the symptoms of short-term and long-term exposure that you need to watch out for:

Short-term asbestos exposure

Short-term asbestos exposure is either a one-time or multiple exposure for a few days. It is generally a low health risk unless exposed to high levels of asbestos. Here are the symptoms:

  • Breathing difficulties

  • Chest pain

  • Difficulty in swallowing

  • Chronic cough

  • Fatigue

  • Weight loss and reduced appetite

Long-term asbestos exposure

Long-term asbestos exposure happens when ACMs are disturbed, and release asbestos fibers into the air. These fibers are breathed in and get trapped in the lungs. Repeated inhalation of fibers in the air causes them to accumulate to cause scarring and inflammation. These are the diseases that may show up after inhaling asbestos fibers for ten to forty years:

  • Lung cancer

  • Ovarian cancer

  • Laryngeal cancer

  • Mesothelioma

  • Pleural disease

  • Asbestosis

When you know you were exposed to presumed asbestos-containing materials (PACM), consult a doctor as soon as possible and have the home, school, workplace, or facility inspected for PACM. Take note that smokers will more likely develop asbestos-related diseases by 90%.

So, immediately contact a qualified air testing company in your area to perform air testing for asbestos when asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are present.

What to know about asbestos air testing in New York City

Unsafe damage, disturbance, and removal of ACMs cause fibers to be released and pose a severe health hazard. So, asbestos air testing must comply with NYC Asbestos Rules and Regulations. Some of the requirements are as follows:

  • Only an independent third party can conduct air sampling and analysis for asbestos. The building owner must strictly follow the following regulations:

    • The contractor must have a current NYS Department of Labor asbestos handling license.

    • The contractor Is not a subcontractor of the abatement contractor, nor shall they have any business, personal, or other relationship with the abatement contractor.

    • The person conducting the sampling must be certified as a New York State Asbestos Project Sampling Technician.

  • An Asbestos Assessment Report, or Form ACP-5, is submitted to the DEP if the area is tested free of asbestos. Form ACP-5 shall be completed, signed, and sealed by a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) - certified asbestos investigator under the following conditions:

    • If the building or its portions are free of ACMs.

    • If there are ACMs, they will not be disturbed by the work.

    • The work involves a minor ACM abatement project.

  • Air sampling tests must follow the monitoring test requirements for abatement projects:

    • For equal to or greater than 10,000 sq. ft. or 10,000 linear ft. of ACM per work area, the kind of air testing to be conducted shall be:

      • Pre-abatement - Phase Contrast Microscopy (PCM)

      • During abatement - PCM

      • Post-abatement - Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM)

    • For less than 10,000 sq. ft. or 10,000 linear ft. of ACM, the kind of air testing to be conducted shall be:

      • Pre-abatement - PCM

      • During abatement - PCM

      • Post-abatement - PCM

    • The Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) to asbestos in work areas is 0.01 fiber per cubic centimeter (f/cc). Employers must strictly monitor that their employees are not inhaling asbestos fibers beyond this level.

  • Only accredited laboratories shall test and analyze the PACM samples. The accrediting body is the Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ELAP).

Click NYCDEP Asbestos Rules and Regulations to view and download the complete Asbestos Rules and Regulations of the NYCDEP in PDF format.

What are Phase Contrast Microscopy (PCM) and Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM)?

There are two primary sampling methods for asbestos air testing. Both methodologies require pumping ambient air into filtered air cassettes. Several high-volume air pumps are used to achieve a volume of 1,200 liters. The main differences are:

  • Phase Contrast Microscopy (PCM). PCM is inexpensive and quick to administer on-site compared to TEM. The main disadvantage is it cannot identify asbestos fibers from non-asbestos fibers. It merely makes a fiber count.

  • Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM). TEM is more precise and accurate by about four times compared to PCM. It can also positively identify asbestos directly by scanning for its structure and elemental composition. TEM is more expensive because of the high cost of the electron microscope used.


Asbestos fibers are odorless and are invisible to the naked eye. So, air testing is essential if you suspect your family is exposed to asbestos-containing materials. Call (718) 316-6866 to contact professional air testers in your area to ensure that you are asbestos-free.

19 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page