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Small fiberglass fragment in airGuide to Detection & Hazards of Large vs Ultra-small Airborne Fiberglass & Fiberglass Dust Fragments in buildings

  • FIBERGLASS DETECTION in BUILDING AIR & DUST - CONTENTS: Sources & Detection of Sub-Micron Sized Fiberglass Fragments in Building Air. Large Non-Respirable Fiberglass Insulation Particles. Special problems with very small fiberglass fragment particles down to sub-micron size. Basic Dust Cleanup Advice for Indoor Fiberglass Fragments or other Small Particles. Prudent Avoidance Advice About Fiberglass Insulation Dust
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about forensic laboratory procedures for the detection of airborne fiberglass and similar particles in air & dust samples
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Detection of airborne fiberglass:

How Airborne particle size effects on air quality testing: This document provides information about the role of particle size and lab procedures in the detection of small particles of fiberglass fragments and indoor air quality fiberglass contamination issues in residential and light-commercial buildings.

This article describes risks of inaccuracies in airborne fiberglass and similar particle studies if the forensic analyst fails to use procedures that can detect very small particles & fragments.



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Sources & Detection of Sub-Micron Sized Fiberglass Fragments in Building Air

Experienced forensic microscopists will almost certainly agree that it is very common to find fiberglass insulation fragments in indoor dust and air samples. Most often analysts recognize and identify large fiber particles - lengths considerably longer than other indoor dust analytes such as mold or pollen.

Large Non-Respirable Fiberglass Insulation Particles

These comparatively large fiberglass particles are typicallyi low enough in frequency and large enough in size that experts will agree that they are unlikely to pose a health risk to building occupants. Indeed manufacturer MSDS sheets indicate that "There are no known health effects from the long term use or contact with nonrespirable continuous filament fibers.

As manufactured, PPG glass fibers are nonrespirable. Nonrespirable fibers cannot reach the deep lung because they have a diameter of greater than 3.5 micrometers."[2]

Small, Respirable Fiberglass Insulation Particles

But what about the level of ultra-small [and respirable] fiberglass fragments that might be present in some buildings where insulation has been tramped-on, stomped about, or otherwise damaged and abused? It would appear that "if you don't look for it, you won't find it and you won't report it" is a common problem with certain particles that may be present but not tested-for.

About these small fiberglass fragments, one manufacturer explains:

Chopped, crushed or severely mechanically processed fiber glass may contain a very small amount of respirable fibers that could reach the deep lung. The measured airborne concentration of these respirable fibers in areas where severe processing of fiberglass occurred has been shown to be extremely low and well below the TLV. Repeated or prolonged exposure to respirable glass fibres may cause fibrosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. PPG fiber glass in the form supplied, [italics ours] does not contain respirable fibers.[2]

And we agree that in proper and normal installations that assumption sounds very reasonable. But having inspected several thousand buildings, we have certainly encountered conditions in which insulation has been installed or damaged in a manner risking an increased level of these small fragments.

DJF Opinion: we frequently find fiberglass fragments in indoor air samples, particularly where fiberglass HVAC duct material are in a building and where fiberglass insulation has been left exposed in a living or occupied area (such as in the ceiling above an unfinished basement being used as an office or family play area). If someone has attempted to mechanically "clean" HVAC duct work which was lined with fiberglass insulation, it is likely that I'll find a higher presence of fiberglass fragments in indoor air and in settled dust.

We continue to collect field data as well as occupant complaints in buildings for research purposes. To date our field data suggest that there is more fiberglass in residential building air than is recognized. The skin, eye, and respiratory irritant effects of exposure to fiberglass dust and particles has been widely acknowledged and appears, for example, in the MSDS for various fiberglass products. [1][2][3][4][5]

But in our opinion a there is a growing level of concern regarding these fibers, in particular where ultra-small fragments are present.

Small fiberglass fragment in air

The microscope photo at left shows indoor dust fragments including skin cells (pink) and fiberglass fragments. These particular fiberglass fragments are large enough to see easily.

DJF Opinion: Frequent presence of fiberglass fragments in air and some dust samples, suggests that an HVAC duct system or exposed fiberglass insulation in the building may be contributing unwanted and potentially unsafe levels of these fibers.

What may be the sources of these fiberglass fragments? Here are some examples:

While the fiberglass industry does not necessarily agree these particles in homes constitute a hazard, independent studies and warnings at US government health-related websites suggest that there may be carcinogenic or respiratory health hazards from exposure to high levels of fiberglass particles in some buildings and/or work environments.

The health risk of small airborne fiberglass particles is likely to depend on the level in the building, the exposure level of the occupants, and other factors.

Basic Dust Cleanup Advice for Indoor Fiberglass Fragments or other Small Particles

If we find frequent presence of fiberglass fibers in air or interior dust samples further investigation, cleaning, and particularly investigation of air handling equipment and duct systems in the building would be appropriate.

If fiberglass HVAC duct work has been installed I very often find significant fiberglass levels in interior air and dust samples.

Because these materials cannot be mechanically cleaned and because I do not recommend encapsulant sprays, replacement could be in order.

We would not expect and do not usually find evidence of movement of significant levels of fiberglass fragments from insulated attics, nor from enclosed (finished) walls, ceilings into living areas under normal conditions.

Prudent Avoidance Advice About Fiberglass Insulation Dust

It is possible that small fiberglass particles in air may constitute a meaningful health risk (obviously depending on the overall exposure level) which has not been explored.

We suggest that that prudent avoidance would be appropriate. Improper cleaning or treatment of fiberglass ducts with biocides may in fact increase rather than decrease indoor air quality problems in a building, particularly if occupants have other respiratory or pulmonary concerns/vulnerabilities.

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Continue reading at FIBERGLASS FRAGMENT HAZARDS in AIR or DUST or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see LAB IDENTIFICATION OF FIBERGLASS for forensic lab procedural notes about fiberglass particles.

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