Asbestos is an insidious killer, with a nasty habit of being most deadly when it is least visible. Fortunately, a new device can detect asbestos on site, without a lab test.
Popular in construction because of its fire-retardant properties, asbestos is mostly harmless if left alone. However, friction or other damage can make asbestos-containing products release asbestos fibers into the air, which are tiny, thin, and carcinogenic. Inhaled asbestos fibers increase the risk of lung disease, especially mesothelioma, which is a cancer than can wait as long as 40 years after exposure to strike the lungs and heart, and generally proves fatal within a year of development.
The best way to not get mesothelioma is to avoid asbestos exposure, but that's not always possible for people working in building demolition, repairing ancient car brakes, or doing the dirty job of renovating old, probably-asbestos-containing buildings so they are safe for new occupants. In those instances, it's helpful to find out if there's loose asbestos in the air, and it's best to do so as quick as possible.
At the University of Hertfordshire in England, researchers made a new sensor that can detect asbestos in the air on site, without having to send samples back to a lab for a evaluation, which is expensive and time-consuming. The key to their device? The inherent magnetic nature of asbestos.