Asbestos in Soil Testing


Asbestos in Soils Testing and Inspection

Asbestos Soil Testing. Asbestos in made ground soil is predominantly immobile, although when contaminated ground soil is disturbed, fibres are more likely to be released.

Asbestos in soil may be found in various forms such as loose fill, insulation, lagging, asbestos insulating board (AIB), cement etc.

Very low concentrations of asbestos fibres may be present in soil and made ground and these fibres may not be visible to the naked eye. The thorough analysis of soil, therefore, provides the accurate quantification of any asbestos fibres present as a percentage of the overall mass. This, in turn, can be equated to occupational risk and the practices associated with its removal and disposal or re-use.

All results from the testing and inspection stage are presented in a summary report, detailing recommendations as standard.


Asbestos Quantification

In traditional building surveys, there is no requirement to undertake a quantitative assessment for asbestos, with the regulations instead focusing on the type of Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) in use rather than the percentage content of asbestos.

However, for those involved in contaminated land projects, there are many legal and regulatory obligations that need to be considered in relation to the potential asbestos contamination of soils and made ground.

The measurement of any asbestos included in the soil is a fundamental requirement in relation to occupational exposure and the subsequent determination of the most appropriate removal, disposal or soil re-use arrangements. To meet all regulatory requirements, and to ensure that the potential presence of asbestos in soils is assessed in the required manner, soil samples need to be assessed in a formal tiered process to identify if asbestos is present (qualification), in what composition (type determination) and in what quantity (quantification).

To ensure that this is carried out in line with the required standards, the latest UKAS accreditation of the Lucion laboratory recognises that formal training, qualifications and documented procedures are in place to ensure the consistent and accurate analysis of all samples.

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Why is the quantitative analysis of soil samples important?

Asbestos can find its way into made ground and soils in many different circumstances. These include the historic demolition of buildings containing ACMs, fly-tipped waste, the nature of the business that may have previously occupied a site and previously ineffective remediation of areas that may have been suspected as being contaminated.

The Control of Asbestos Regulations requires employers to assess any potential exposure to asbestos faced by employees and the Environment Agency regulations require the quantification of asbestos in soils is determined so that an assessment can be made in relation to hazardous waste handling arrangements and human health risk assessments.

In particular, recognised scientific studies have been used to link the content of any asbestos present in the soil to the risk of airborne fibres being released during disturbance work and the potential risk to people working or living on or nearby these sites.

Control limits, which relate to asbestos fibre release during work with a particular product, are used to determine any special measures that may need to be adopted for the safe handling or removal of material from the site and who is qualified to carry out this work.

The control limits stipulate that if the work generates less than 0.6 fibres/cm3 over 10 minutes or less than 0.1 fibres/cm3 over four hours, then it is non-licensed work. If these levels are exceeded, then the work becomes licensed (and the contractor must be an HSE Asbestos Licence holder). In all situations, the work must be carried out by suitably trained personnel and companies.


How are soil samples assessed and analysed?

The procedures for soil sampling and analysis are detailed in industry-led guidance. Trial pit and borehole sampling are carried out through the made ground layer on a site or land area and 1 kg (approx 1 litre) of soil is sampled. Careful attention is applied throughout the sample collection and handling in the laboratory to avoid any spread of potential contamination. Trial pits and borehole locations in the site under review are properly reinstated.

This original soil sample is sub-sampled and screened for visible asbestos products, in the laboratory, which if present are weighed and analysed. A subsample is further analysed for asbestos fibres and these are separated and weighed. Measured weights are then scaled back up to represent the whole sample and an overall percentage asbestos content is determined.

On those occasions where asbestos products or fibres are not detected, and subject to a client’s request, further sedimentation analysis can be carried out. This involves a sample of soil being dissolved in water and an aliquot is then passed through a filter. The filter is then analysed using SEM and EDS. If fibres are found, the quantities are measured and scaled up to the original mass and a total asbestos percentage content is reported.


What are the implications of being UKAS accredited for this service?

UKAS accreditation confirms that all procedures, equipment, staff competencies and reporting practices used in the laboratory meet the requirements of the ISO 17025 standard.

Approval is only awarded after a rigorous audit and inspection process is carried out to ensure that the relevant sampling and analysis procedures are in place, that laboratory professionals are properly qualified and trained to carry out the work expected of them and that reporting and documentation are also in line with the required formats.?

In addition, in Lucion’s case, separate UKAS accreditation has been gained for the use of SEM microscopy for the identification of very low quantities of asbestos fibres in soils.

As well as laboratory services, at the sampling stage, Lucion can also call on specialist in-house expertise for site investigation.

Lucion’s extended sampling and analytical capability mean clients can benefit from higher limits of asbestos detection, providing greater levels of reassurance and confidence in the correct choice of remediation management where it is required.

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