Photograph of chopped fiberglass insulation Fiberglass Contamination Test Procedure for buildings

  • FIBERGLASS PARTICLE CONTAMINATION TEST - CONTENTS: How to perform an inexpensive screen for fiberglass contamination in buildings. Screening buildings for both large and ultra-fine fiberglass insulation fragments. Health concerns of fiberglass exposure. Fiberglass exposure hazard reference list
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about test procedures for screening buildings for abnormal levels of fiberglass dust or mold

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Building tests for fiberglass contamination:

Tthis document provides suggestions for easy, low-cost methods to screen a building for fiberglass hazards and fiberglass insulation contamination in residential or commercial buildings.

Here we provide some suggestions regarding screening for fiberglass dust exposure in buildings in order to detect unusual or high levels of fiberglass insulation or other fiberglass fragments indoors in air or dust. We discuss both large and ultra-fine fiberglass particles and fragments and how to screen and test for fiberglass indoors.

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Guide to Rapid, Low-Cost Procedures for Screening buildings for Fiberglass Dust, Particle, or Fragment Contamination

There are three basic approaches to screening a building or building area for airborne fiberglass exposure (1 - 3 below)

photo of yellow fiberglass building insulation photo of pink fiberglass building insulation
  1. Visual Inspection for Fiberglass Contamination Sources: A very expert, thorough visual inspection of conditions that would affect insulation particle movement between areas, such as the HVAC system details, ductwork condition and materials, exposed insulation in various areas, expected air movement between areas. our photos (above) show typical fiberglass insulation in two attics.

    The color of fiberglass insulation may help identify its manufacturer and is primarily the result of binder materials.

    Identification of fiberglass insulation by visual inspection (the naked eye) is discussed
    at FIBERGLASS HAZARDS and in general is quite easy.

    But there may be sources of fiberglass particles indoors that are less obvious, such as damaged HVAC ductwork insulated with fiberglass.

    Our detailed article on how to recognize fiberglass duct insulation and its characteristics and hazards is
  2. How to Collect Settled Dust for Fiberglass Contamination Testing: To look for high levels of fiberglass particles in settled dust as an indicator of exposure we may collect settled dust from appropriate building locations and surfaces.
    Also we can often trace fiberglass in building dust samples to its source by comparing resins and other details to various samples of actual building insulation (if needed).

    This expert-recommended mold test kit is easy, inexpensive, and
accurate *IF* you sample from a representative spot and *IF* you use a competent mold analysis laboratory!Tape Sampling for Dust Collection: A reasonable, and inexpensive initial screen for indoor fiberglass particle levels is to use adhesive tape sampling to collect a settled dust sample from a horizontal surface that has not been cleaned for two weeks or longer.

    Don't collect from such a dirty surface that the tape sample is obscured with debris (thick with dust bunnies), and don't collect a sample from a surface that was cleaned very recently, unless you are evaluating the efficacy of that cleanup.

    Use the easy and low-cost mold or dust particle sampling procedure using clear adhesive tape and ZipLok™ baggies

    At How to How to Test for Mold in Insulation we describe fiberglass dust screening recommendations, including just where and how to collect dust samples to look for fiberglass contamination, in more detail and include photos of highly-contaminated fiberglass.

    Depending on the forensic lab used, costs vary a bit, but are typically $50./tape sample.

    To keep costs down, most experts either collect two samples per building floor, or they concentrate (as I prefer) on the one or two rooms where occupants spend the most time, such as a bedroom and perhaps a family or TV room. (Bulk sampling, the analysis of actual samples of insulation, are typically $100./sample and are not necessary in most cases).
  3. Using Air Tests or Air Sampling to Screen for Fiberglass? Air tests to look for airborne fiberglass at a specific time, in our experience is unreliable.

    In particular, a negative result is the least reliable among these three methods, as the level of airborne particles varies enormously from minute to minute in building because of many varying conditions such as occupancy, open or shut windows or doors, HVAC systems operating or not, other fans operating or not, level of mechanical disturbance of local dust, and even elevation above floor level of the air sample collector.

    Photograph of mold spores of Aspergillus sp. found in crawl space fiberglass insulation.We discuss these variables in more detail
    at MOLD TESTING METHOD VALIDITY where we provide graphic evidence of orders of magnitude variation in sample results, and air sampling is further criticized
    at MOLD LEVEL IN AIR, VALIDITY - where we describe airborne mold spore counts - the same fallacies apply to fiberglass or other airborne particle counts.

    Our photo (left) shows severe mold contamination found in fiberglass insulation over a wet basement floor.

    It is possible to conduct longer-term air sampling, either continuously (an Anderson continuous air monitoring sampler) or intermittently (Allergenco time lapse impaction sampler) but even then there may be large errors in the results of such (much more costly) monitoring and testing, unless we establish that the building use and occupancy are representative of normal conditions.
  4. Bulk Sample Testing for Fiberglass Source Identification: Bulk sample (samples of actual insulating material) examination can be useful in determining the condition of fiberglass insulation, the degree to which it has been damaged so as to produce large numbers of small fragments, and the resins and binders used that may assist in later correlating building dust with specific insulation sources.

    We can also identify old, dirty fiberglass that may be contaminated with insect fragments, insect fecals, animal allergens (mice, rodents), or with harmful mold.
    See Mold in Fiberglass Insulation - and Moldy insulation may look clean for details.
  5. photo of resin binder on fiberglass insulation fragmentsCare in lab processing of fiberglass samples is critical, whether from dust, air, or bulk material.

    We have found that most microscopists easily identify large fiberglass particles, but we suspect that at least some studies of the level of fiberglass dust in buildings may have failed to adequately screen for very small (1-4 u) fiberglass fragments that are produced in some circumstances

    - these particles are difficult to see unless the microscopist is familiar with the issues and unless s/he makes very careful adjustments to both mounting media and the microscope itself.

    Lab identification of fiberglass insulation is
    at LAB IDENTIFICATION OF FIBERGLASS and is also not difficult, though as we cite in this article, care is necessary to include ultra-small fiberglass fragments if performing a study of occupant exposure to fiberglass particles.

    Fiberglass fragment issues are discussed

    In that article we also discuss techniques which permit the forensic microscopy lab to identify the source or reservoir of particular fiberglass fragments in a building, sorting out among many possible fiber sources to pinpoint the particular problem such as damaged building insulation, damaged HVAC duct work, or other particle sources.

    Finally, we discuss how to distinguish among types of insulating and other fibers, comparing various types of fiberglass insulation, mineral wool insulation, asbestos insulation, and other fibers.

Our separate article on FIBERGLASS FRAGMENT HAZARDS in AIR or DUST and HVAC duct work insulation hazards contains additional discussion about possible air quality and health concerns which may be associated with exposure to fiberglass dust.


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

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