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Photograph of  LARGER IMAGE - tremolite asbestos, non-asbestiform tremolite, collected from the same sample of asbestos slab ceiling insulation Asbestos under the microscope

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Asbestos particles examined by microscope:

Photographs provided on this page illustrate what asbestos fibers or fragments may look like under the polarized light microscope.

In this article we provide photographs and descriptive text of asbestos insulation and other asbestos-containing products to permit identification of definite, probable, or possible asbestos materials in buildings. This document assists forensic investigators, laboratories, building buyers, owners or inspectors who need to identify asbestos materials (or probable-asbestos) in buildings by simple visual inspection and confirmed by asbestos test lab or forensic microscopy lab examination.

We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.

Asbestos under the microscope: Micro photographs of Asbestos

Tremolite asbestos on a ceiling © D Friedman at InspectApedia.com While an expert lab test using polarized light microscopy may be needed to identify the specific type of asbestos fiber, or to identify the presence of asbestos in air or dust samples, many asbestos-containing building products not only are obvious and easy to recognize, but since there were not other look-alike products that were not asbestos, a visual identification of this material can be virtually a certainty in many cases.

Our photo (left) illustrates pure tremolite asbestos used as fireproofing on a building ceiling in New York. Our forensic lab photographs of tremolite asbestos (below) were collected from that ceiling. More about this building can be read
at ASBESTOS FIREPROOFING SPRAY-On Coatings.

Also
see ASBESTOS DUCTS, HVAC a field identification guide to visual detection of asbestos in and on heating and cooling system ducts and flue vents,

and see Micro-Photographs of DUST from the WORLD TRADE CENTER COLLAPSE following the 9/11/2001 attack. Links to U.S. government and other authoritative research and advice are included.

PLM (Polarized Light Microscopy) remains the most-commonly or widely used method for identifying asbestos: with proper training, equipment, a polarized light microscope, (ideally sporting one or more central stop dispersion staining lenses) and the proper immersion oil in the right range of refractive index, this is quick, efficient, easy.

A second, widely-used means of identification of asbestos in material samples is the use of SEM (Scanning Electron Microscopy) or TEM (Transmission Electron Microscopy) - approaches using a directed beam of electrons, an X-ray or EDX (energy-dispersive X-rays) beam, and proper computer software and hardware in support. This approach has the benefit of easier identification of different types of asbestos, thouigh McCrone also showed that asbestos types could also be identified by his methodology.

SEM's are of course a higher-resolution technology than a PLM that is generally limited to particles down to about 1u at 1200x or smaller particles at 1920x magnification (using our POLAM Russian-built PLM).

TEM has still higher resolution. However in our OPINION as well as that of experts, PLM is completely adequate for identifying asbestos in bulk, air, or dust samples.

Photograph of - tremolite asbestos, asbestiform tremolite, collected from asbestos slab ceiling insulation Photograph of  LARGER IMAGE - tremolite asbestos, non-asbestiform tremolite, collected from the same sample of asbestos slab ceiling insulation

Here are two photographs showing what a sample of asbestos ceiling fireproofing (tremolite asbestos) looks like in our lab microscope using polarized light microscopy (PLM).

Notice that in the first photo you see long very thin multi-fibrous filaments - asbestiform tremolite.

Each filament is less than one micron in diameter. In the second photograph you'll observe non-fibrous granular particles, many less than one micron in diameter as well - non-asbestiform tremolite. [McCrone]

This asbestos sample was collected from slabs of nearly pure tremolite asbestos which was used
as FIREPROOFING ASBESTOS SPRAY-ON in a commercial building.

McCrone illustrated that tremolite asbestos (as well as some other forms of asbestos) occur in both fibrous and non-fibrous form.

Comparing the photo at below left (tremolite in fibrous form) by McCrone to ours (above right) that shows fewer small non-fibrous particles, but a clear bundle of ultra-fine sub-micron (in width) fibers.

Photograph of - tremolite asbestos, asbestiform tremolite, collected from asbestos slab ceiling insulation Photograph of  LARGER IMAGE - tremolite asbestos, non-asbestiform tremolite, collected from the same sample of asbestos slab ceiling insulation

Asbestos Identification Resources

Asbestos Identification - McCrone, Walter (C) Daniel Friedman at InspectApedia.com Polarized Light Microscopy, McCrone, Walter at InspectApedia.com

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Technical Reviewers & References

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  • 3/07: thanks to Gary Randolph, Ounce of Prevention Home Inspection, LLC Buffalo, NY, for attentive reading and editing suggestions. Mr. Randolph can be reached in Buffalo, NY, at (716) 636-3865 or email: gary@ouncehome.com
  • 06/07: thanks for photographs of transite asbestos heating ducts, courtesy of Thomas Hauswirth, Managing Member of Beacon Fine Home Inspections, LLC and (in 2007) Vice President, Connecticut Association of Home Inspectors Ph. 860-526-3355 Fax 860-526-2942 beaconinspections@sbcglobal.net
  • June 1997 - Window Putty - OSHA case cites contractor for asbestos exposure during removal of window putty http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=NEWS_RELEASES&p_id=1091
  • "Handling Asbestos-Containing roofing material - an update", Carl Good, NRCA Associate Executive Director, Professional Roofing, February 1992, p. 38-43
  • ...
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