Acquiring Asbestos Samples

Before beginning the process of removing asbestos from a building, the suspected materials will very likely need to be tested for asbestos.  The abatement process is a time-consuming and expensive one, so first it is worthwhile to determine with certainty whether abatement is necessary.  It is possible for a non-professional to prepare a sample of the materials for analysis and some abatement firms will provide do-it-yourself instructions for sampling, but disturbing even small amounts of asbestos-containing materials can be dangerous, so it is best to consult a professional.

Choosing an Abatement Worker

Inspectors and abatement teams must be licensed by the state or federal government in order to deal with asbestos; it is illegal for a non-licensed contractor to perform this work.  Some asbestos abatement firms will perform the entire process, including sampling, testing, assessment, and correction (removal or repair).  However, the EPA recommends hiring two different firms – one for testing and assessment and another for correction – to prevent conflicts of interest.  Unethical firms may exaggerate or even fabricate the existence of asbestos in order to coerce the homeowner into hiring them for an expensive removal process.

Taking a Sample Safely

When taking a sample, the professional should follow general asbestos safety guidelines, remaining alone in the room while taking the sample and employing proper protective gear, usually including a disposable suit and gloves as well as a respirator specially fitted to filter asbestos from the air.  The sampler should also take the precautions of removing any furniture or upholstery and turning off heating or cooling systems to prevent the spread of the fibers throughout the structure should they be released during the sampling process.

The sampler should not use any kind of power tools to perform the work, as these can create dust that contains tiny asbestos fibers.  Once taken, the sample should be carefully sealed and labeled with the date, location, and likely an identification number that the firm will provide to the contractor.  The professional should take steps to minimize any disturbance that has been made in the material, including patching it with duct tape or wetting down the area to contain any dust.

The procedure for taking air samples is different, but is generally used to determine the safety of workplace settings, since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s standards are based on the number of asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter of air.


State of Washington Department of Ecology

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration