Asbestos is often described as “a product of the past” due to its use being banned in the UK, and in fact in many other countries. In fact asbestos should more aptly be described as “a threat for the future” as asbestos diseases are suffered long after a person encounters deadly asbestos fibres.
Whilst asbestos has been banned in the UK since 1999, people still come in to contact with the toxic mineral when carrying out DIY tasks or when carrying our building works as a tradesman. A typical example would be the demolition of an asbestos lined wall which would cause millions of microscopic asbestos fibres to be released in to the air. It is these fibres that are inhaled and go on to cause asbestos related diseases such as pleural thickening, asbestosis, pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma and asbestos induced lung cancer, the latter 3 of which are fatal conditions.
To provide a safeguard against deadly asbestos fibres, scientists at the University of Hertfordshire have developed what they say is the world’s first portable device which acts as a real-time detector of airborne asbestos fibres.
Operation of the asbestos fibre detector
- The device begins by shining a laser beam into a stream of air.
- If the laser beam strikes an airborne particle of any description, the airborne particle disturbs the laser beam creating a unique pattern that is sufficient to determine the shape, size, and orientation of the particle.
- The disturbed laser beam pattern then informs the device electronically if the particle is a fibre of some sort.
- The stream of air created by the device continues to simultaneously pump air through a magnetic field whilst the laser beam is operating and the fibres are disturbing the beam.
- If any of the identified fibres detected by the laser beam are asbestos, they will align themselves with the direction of the magnetic field causing a warning to be triggered.
Fibre detectors are already available on the market but they cannot differentiate between asbestos and non-asbestos fibres. The magnetic field alignment is unique to the Hertfordshire device making it revolutionary in the detection of asbestos fibres.
Prototypes of the Hertfordshire device are now being trialled in locations where known asbestos removal operations are being undertaken.
If the trials are successful the product should be available on the open market in late 2017, or early 2018. The cost of the device is not yet known, though it is expected to be approximately £700.
Our opinion on the device
Boyes Turner are of course excited by the creation of the device as it has the potential to save millions of lives. However, with an estimated price tag of £700 it is unlikely that most DIY-ers will purchase the device and it therefore may become exclusive to specialist tradespeople only.
Boyes Turner also worry that specialist tradesmen may only by 1 device which will be of little use if works are carried out in numerous rooms of a property and the device is not set up in a room where asbestos is disturbed. Again, the cost of the device may limit who purchases the device and how many are purchased for each works site.
Boyes Turner’s advice, as always, would be to appoint specialist asbestos removal contractors to remove any asbestos you encounter when conducting any form of works that may disturb asbestos, thus eliminating your personal risk of suffering from an asbestos related disease in the future.