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Portable device detects airborne asbestos

For decades, asbestos was widely used in products that are still found in people's homes and office buildings today. While the hazards associated with asbestos exposure were not immediately known, by the time it was discovered that asbestos can be deadly, hundreds of thousands of people had been exposed. Sadly, many people continue to be exposed to asbestos without even realizing it, which can end up being fatal. There are a number of characteristics of asbestos that make it an extremely dangerous product to use in materials.

Asbestos is not always easily identifiable by an average person. Those who are forced to work around asbestos may not even realize that the dust they are kicking up is, in fact, asbestos and it should not be breathed in. If asbestos in inhaled into the body, the particles can seriously damage a person's lungs and other organs. By the time a person starts showing symptoms of an asbestos-related disease, it is often decades after exposure and it may be too late for victims to get effective medical treatment.

Because of how dangerous it is, one company is looking to make asbestos exposure a thing of the past. The company has developed a tool which would help people identify airborne asbestos in real time, giving them the opportunity to avoid exposure and take proper precautions to protect themselves. 

The device is a sensor which shines a laser beam into the air. If the laser detects a particle, light from the laser scatters out in a specific pattern which the device uses to detect certain properties about the particle. If any of the particles that exhibit characteristics unique to asbestos, like aligning themselves with the direction of the device's magnetic field, the device can determine if the fibers are asbestos. 

While it is still being tested, makers of the device hope that their tool will be used widely for commercial purposes. Instead of the current processes that are in place to test for asbestos, which can take longer and be less accurate, this portable detector could help consumers correctly identify asbestos in real time. 

Source: gizmag, "Portable device detects potentially-lethal asbestos fibers in real time," Ben Coxworth, May 2, 2013

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