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Old 12-29-2011, 09:12 AM   #1
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Question for DCFusor

Hey DC,
As you know, we are an environmental remediation and engineering firm, and we frequently work with and around various types of materials containing asbestos. Whether to remediate or simply to manage them in place, we must perform a survey first, to qualify the presence of and quantify asbestos fibers as a percentage of the material matrix. I stumbled across an instrument that threatens to revolutionize this process and would like your [clearly] expert opinion on the effectiveness of this new analytical product, and your opinion on the methodology utilized.

The name of the product is microPHAZIR AS, and it is very very similar to an XRF. The product page can be found here:

http://www.ahurascientific.com/mater...ras/index.php#

I have sent a request for information and pricing options, because it just seems too good to be true. It seems to utilize spectrometry to identify and speciate silicates within a product matrix, and according to the report I read, it can quantify to within a fraction of a percent.

Knowing in advance that the EPA and OSHA do not accept results from certain technologies for lead based paint surveys [XRF is unacceptable to them if you can believe that] and Transmission Electron Microscopy for asbestos [equally stupid considering that TEM and SEM are state of the art technologies], I understand that I will only be able to use this as sort of an advance warning tool, but in many circumstances it would speed response times by an order of magnitude, because we could simply presume the presence of asbestos, while still doing a destructive sample and sending it out for a primitive PLM exam by human eyes.

What say you DC?
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Old 12-29-2011, 10:41 AM   #2
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No, I didn't know what you did in life as we know it. Cool! This might be too much info, but since it's on its own thread, the world can skip it if they like.

It's a near-IR spectrometer. I'd suppose that it looks for the asbestos spectrum by hitting things with IR from a bulb (something incandescents still rule for), and helps out the operator a little by having stored spectra for it and other common building materials. Something uncommon might fool it. I didn't register for more information, but spec sheets for things like this you have to read for what's *not* in them to get the real skinny, it can be a lot of work to know what *should* be there, but isn't.

Without doing some more background work - even I don't know everything already - I'd say it's probably good for what they say it is, but is possible to be fooled. Fisher is a good outfit, if high priced. NIR spectra can get pretty complex and the addition of a little human judgment would seem to be required at least some of the time, as it is in other spectrometry.

Personally, I'd add a decent pocket microscope as asbestos has a pretty recognizable look in a matrix, and after a little study of it and some non-containing examples, you'd be a lot more sure. Quicker and cheaper too. But for a lot of this kind of work, that's not really the issue.

If it was me in this case, I'd be looking not so much at the materials alone, but the dust in pockets around them - anywhere dust collects - as you point out, it's the asbestos getting loose that is the problem - so the reasonable thing would be to check if that's happening or not, by looking at what does get loose and seeing if there's asbestos in it! This is entirely too reasonable for the guys writing regs to have thought of it, probably.

But it might help you select when to do the more extensive and expensive tests, since you obviously DO have some judgment.


// background

For those who don't know why asbestos is an issue - it's a very inert substance - so far, so good. It has a very needle-like crystal structure and habit - fibrous. Since it's inert, once it gets into your lungs, your body doesn't know how to "eat" it, and it's hard to cough up, as the pointy fibers embed in tissue well. Being there and being "not you", your body reacts to it and tries to get rid of it. This produces a lot of cell death at first, creating more junk, and that pointy stuff keeps puncturing more cells and causing them to die (they self-destruct). Mostly, the body eventually gets smart and just coats the junk with scar tissue, bad, but not too bad unless there's a lot of it. The real threat is if it just keeps killing cells (plain old mechanical damage here - the stuff really is pretty inert). This means more cell replication. More cell replication means more chances of a transcription error in the DNA - more error means more chance of cancer as a result.

Enough of this scar tissue can be disabling (same idea as silicosis and black lung), and frankly, most of the cancers "caused" by this were well after the other damage got to be pretty bad anyway and also happened in the presence of other cancer causing agents (smoking, for one). Society went way overboard on this one in my opinion, but that's me. Simple breathing masks when dealing with a lot of junk in the air would have sufficed as a preventative measure in a lot of cases. And doh, packaging anything you're using so it doesn't fill the air with dust would have been a pretty basic idea.

As a result of early sloppy and ill considered remediation efforts, probably more damage was done to humans than just leaving things alone until it was time to replace them anyway - tearing all this junk out puts more of it into the air to be ingested, duh. Took a few decades for anyone to figure this obvious idea out, though.

The lawsuits nearly ruined (actually did bankrupt) the best and most responsible firms (B&W) in the power plant business, where they really do have a good use for this stuff (other things melt at those temperatures), and cost everyone a ton of money - even you and me - power companies have state-guaranteed profit no matter what their costs are. Lawyers are still ambulance-chasing this one decades later, trying to get that last buck before all the possible subjects die of old age.

// A note on the regs in general:

Governments have this problem - they can't control too well how diligent, or effectively smart, their people are. The regs have to be written for the expected worst case of those implementing them. This leads to some apparently stupid rules, but on reflection, maybe not so much.

Example - in the NEC (electrical code) it's against code to solder junctions and outlets. Any competent technician knows that solder is better than none for contact resistance and in general would be safer - if it's a good solder joint and the mechanical prep is also good.

But, you can't expect your run of the mill, highly paid inspector to have a clue what a good solder joint looks like, it's possible to hide bad mechanical prep behind one, and the next guy who comes in to change something might not know how to (un- and re-) solder.

So, they're banned. A lot of my wiring is soldered anyway - an advantage of being off the grid and permit free is you can go ahead and do things right.

Regs in general attempt (and usually fail) to remove as much human judgment as possible from the equation. Drop-down check lists - no essay questions. Very pessimistic about the human race and its abilities. Whether that is a good assessment or not, well, maybe.

But of course, this philosophical failure of regs is one of the reasons we had this "financial engineering" made possible - as a way to get around a simple drop-down list - easy to violate the spirit without violating the letter of the law when the laws are written as they are.

From what I've so far seen on XRF (learning how to make a cheap one for us!) they use some slick shortcuts in most machines - only look at one possible line for each possible element, out of many more possible. This simplification makes it more likely to be fooled - but possible to do for a price. A lot of human skull-sweat went into picking which lines - the ones least likely to be mis-classified with a limited resolution thing and so on, but by tossing out a lot of info to make the computer's job easier, we've, well, tossed out a lot of information. Most semi-automated spectroscopy things do the same, which can lead to errors. I run into this all the time with my mass spectrometers and gamma spectrometers.

There is always some overlap - some things have a huge number of spectral lines, and in a complex mix there's always going to be some overlap with finite resolution. At that point, to do it right you'd have to bring in the big math guns - auto-correlations and template subtractions to look at things like do the lines from this one thing have the right brightness ratios - the problem goes NP-complete fast.

I'm right now answering a related question on another forum, about a guy wondering if a single spurious line in a deuterium gas spectrum is an indication of tungsten contamination of his plasma. It's going to be tough to get this guy a good answer - tungsten has 100's of resolvable lines!

He's seeing just one in a normal deuterium spectrum. So, off to the tables
I go and see if maybe this is the brightest line for tungsten (could the other lines be there but too dim for him to see?), or if he should be also seeing other lines that should be brighter if it's really that, and so on ad nauseaum. If tungsten is really there - a bunch of its other lines ought to be there too, and he's not reporting that as of now. A computerized thing trying to do this job would probably fail at this point, depending on which line they'd picked to be "tungsten" - and it can't have the a priori knowledge we have in this case of (most of) what it could possibly be in a stainless steel tank with ceramic, a gas of ?? purity, and yes, tungsten present.

//
On a funny note there though - a real "think of the children" disaster in the Md school system a couple years back. A kid brings in an old mercury thermometer for show and tell - and breaks it. Mercury gets away of course (the amount in a thermometer). They bring in full decontamination teams - space suits and the whole shebang, to clean it up so the kids don't ingest mercury (which is hard to ingest if you can't even get it off the floor, it's dangerous when in organic compound form, but not as metal or oxide).

They have all this space-age stuff - mass spectrometers and other things, totally state of the art. They wind up shutting down the school for nearly a month chasing mercury, because with this parts-per-trillion stuff, there is no place in the school or on the grounds that doesn't measure some - the idea that there's always some Hg in the environment (more near a coal plant) skipped right past the limited minds of these highly paid inspectors, and of course, not knowing what "normal" was, they had no clue when to declare success (and no motivation, being paid by the time on the job). So the kids lose a month of school, a month of operation expenses is wasted, with extra for that team - total fail, but we sure "thought of the children", didn't we? Remember, we are talking about a total amount here about the same as in one old-style tooth filling, spread over an entire school classroom at worst, spread wider more probably eventually (it has a vapor pressure and evaporates in time) - so no big dose for any single human was even possible from the outset.

The broken window fallacy in operation?
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Old 12-29-2011, 11:11 AM   #3
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Awesome story about "the children". we see it often in our line. As for Hg, I have collected about fifteen pounds and keep it in a glass jar on a shle because I think it's cool. So many people hyperreact to the stupidest things, we make probably twenty percent more money than we should because of uninformed, or overinformed people. Give a parent a tiny bit of knowledge, and a few days on the internet, and voila.......my firm now has a contract for mold remediation where very little actually exists. Stachybotris is ubiquitous here in Florida, abcause it is a hydrophyllic. But, try telling the parents of some sniffling kindergartner that.

Stupid......to this day, it simply cannot be fixed!
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Old 12-29-2011, 12:04 PM   #4
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I have about 30 lbs here myself. Fun stuff. Be careful, some people know how to make fulminate detonators out of it, and these days, ability equals intent if the law has an axe to grind.

Pour some out in a plate, shine a laser off it onto the ceiling, and crank the music up loud. Enjoy the cool holographic interference patterns. We used to do this with my band all the time, eventually spilled about an ounce into the carpet. No one died or got sick, and it's decades later.

Said to be handy to recover gold from ore too...
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Old 12-29-2011, 01:37 PM   #5
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I played with Hg when I was a kid - perhaps not the best idea in the world. However I'm still alive (so far) and my brain still works. I don't plan to handle it directly any time soon but neither would I part with the memory of playing with such a fun substance :-) It's a memory not many people will likely have, in the future.

Yes Hg has a strong affinity for gold, and can be used to collect it and to an extent, clean/concentrate it. The standard practice was to use nitric acid to steal the Hg from the amalgam and leave the gold in relatively pure form. Not very ecologically friendly if you didn't plan to recover the Hg from the acid afterwards...

OTOH it's considerably less complicated and time consuming than using Aqua Regia if you happen to be a prospector with lots of prospecting to do.
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Old 12-29-2011, 02:35 PM   #6
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Well, I got a response from a company rep, and it turns out that they are actually Thermo Scientific, the same outfit that sources my Niton XRF. The rep told me that the machine merely qualifies and speciates, but they are working on a method that will quantify. He said they are also doing testing with NIST and seeking approval from OSHA and the EPA to use the machine in a professional capacity to sample for asbestos, because it can be done in a non destructive manner. I told him "Good luck with that"!
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Old 12-29-2011, 05:38 PM   #7
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There seem to be two ways asbestos particles can mess you up ( not counting a stack falling on you )

When they got round to admitting asbestos was dangerous, the majority were dying of asbestosis as described by DCF above, but as the regs started to take effect and the numbers of new asbestosis cases declined, then saw an increase in mesothelioma, a lung cancer that is apparently specific to exposure to asbestos particulate.

They were further puzzled as it did not always relate to known exposure and as a result took the view that even low exposure, ie cutting cement bound sheet with hand tools in open air conditions was unsafe and enacted the current zero tolerance approach.

So we also get daft situations where new computer cables get drilled through the stuff in a couple of places causing a building to shut down for weeks and even responsible contractors will sneak in and remove any visible sheet before calling in the 'expert' who only takes suspected samples for lab analysis, cos hes not qualified to say its asbestos.

Yet for all my gung ho approach, I get concerned when I see an asbestos sheet roof stripped off a workshop and replaced with whatever is considered appropriate, because now I see a bunch of particles sitting on the workshop floor that get swept up at regular intervals and either resettle after becoming airborne or get ingested .......

The best suggestion I ever heard was that no one under 50 should be allowed near the stuff and the old boys should be allowed to mess with it because it takes 30 years to develop.
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Old 12-29-2011, 05:48 PM   #8
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Rblong,
You are right sir. Dose response to asbestos differs wildly from person to person. There are many, many documented cases of Mesothelioma among children of miners who were exposed when mommy shook the dust off daddies jacket before hanging it up each day. Their undeveloped lungs were given a constant exposure via near permanent suspension of asbestiform mineral suspension within the home. Asbestos fibers are unique in that they can break apart into incredibly small particles. In fact eh standard of measure is .3 microns or greater with a 3 to 1 aspect ratio. That is the qualifier to become identified as a "fiber". As a Niosh 582 trained individual, I have seen some samples back in the early nineties, which were taken on street corners, with concentrations fifty times the clean air standard of .01 fibers per cubic centimeter of air.

There is plenty of information out there to educate us about safe use and handling of materials containing asbestos, yet because of the uproar after it was found that the negatives had been documented and well known within the industry for three decades, all asbestos use was severely curtailed. It is a shame really, because asbestos truly has no substitute in nature. In fact, asbestos means indestructible in Greek.

NASA still uses asbestos gaskets on certain pipe applications and on frangible bolt connections for the shuttle, and the USAF has similar uses. However, good luck getting a waiver to import some for use in a furnace or something.
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Old 12-29-2011, 06:08 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by ancona View Post:
There are many, many documented cases of Mesothelioma among children of miners who were exposed when mommy shook the dust off daddies jacket before hanging it up each day. Their undeveloped lungs were given a constant exposure via near permanent suspension of asbestiform mineral suspension within the home.
and I have met people aged 50-60 who, as kids, played in loose asbestos lagging in derelict buildings on a regular basis, building stacks and seeing what height they could drop in from ...........

The long term exposure of loose particulate trapped within a building is the only risk that concerns me but seems to be overlooked by most.

What we ideally need is for older homes and places of work to have some time exposed monitoring and analysis, like you mentioned for street corner sampling where, I guess, brake dust was wafting constantly.

Would probably only need a vacuum cleaner, that was able to capture sub micron, used regularly to mitigate any risk.

Odd that any of us are still here eh ?
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Old 12-30-2011, 11:37 AM   #10
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Humans are obviously really resilient...else we'd have not survived our stupidity as a race. People forget that too easily. The things that have pushed up our life expectancy aren't the ones people go stupid over.

Also a quest for never-ending life, due to fear of the alternative, has driven people to do extreme things to attempt to limit already-small probabilities of trouble. At some point, you spend far too much time, effort, and stress on that than it is worth, or so I think. You might even make things worse. Fear is more than the mind killer.

For me, it's the life in my hours, not the hours in my life.

Churchill smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish - and lived a decade longer than my Dad, who was a teetotaler and keeled over dead in a church parking lot from a heart attack - probably an issue with the nasty "life saving" meds they put him on to lengthen his life. His mom, who lived to 105 - drank, and lived on coke and M&M's and tunafish for the last 20 years...go figure. My mom, a chain smoker and heavy hitter on the wine, outlived him by 8 years. Not many data points, but it does show how worrying the little stuff may not be "the answer".

I have a pal like this - he's constantly ragging on me to quit my bad habits, and be a lot more "safe". He's my age, and has had two knee replacements from running and biking, and a triple bypass - eating a super healthy diet and doing it all "politically correct" and is so worried about all this it's hard to see him having any fun. His wife is a health freak and won't even let him have a steak, forget bacon, have to eat all these supplements and so on. We take him out once in awhile and feed him up right of course. Neither he or his wife are in as good basic health as I am...go figure, and in this case I don't think it's all genes - their parents did fine.

If that's the trade, I know which side of it I'm taking - fun!

I kind of doubt the asbestos my Dad grew up around (no lung problems) and carbon tet he used to clean things for decades had anything to do with any of his issues.
Or the lead in the gasoline...or any of the other stuff, really.

Yeah, obviously if you live your life in a cloud of dust and are also a mouth-breather, duh, you're going to have issues - fix one or the other.
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