New Standard for Testing Asbestos Levels in Soil

ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), has developed a new standard for testing asbestos concentrations in soil. Because the materials typically analyzed for asbestos are manufactured items such as insulation, drywall, and other home and industrial products, no formal standards had previously been established for testing soil for asbestos concentrations.
Testing soil for asbestos levels is difficult because the substance is distributed randomly throughout the soil. Low levels of asbestos mixed into soil could be "masked" and therefore go undetected with existing tests. Asbestos can contaminate soil following building renovations or demolitions that release asbestos fibers into the air or when asbestos-containing products are damaged or deteriorating, which can also create airborne asbestos dust.
This proposed standard is known as D7521, Test Method for Determination of Asbestos in Soil. It was developed by Subcommittee D22.07 on Sampling and Analysis of Asbestos, part of ASTM International Committee D22 on Air Quality. D7521 would provide a means for any parties needing to test soil for asbestos to follow the same procedure, thereby yielding consistency in results interpretation.
D7521 includes standardized procedures to:
  • Identify asbestos in soil;
  • Provide an estimate of the concentration of asbestos in the sampled soil; and
  • Provide a concentration of asbestos reported as the number of asbestos structures per gram of sample.
Currently, U.S. laws and regulations limit the use of asbestos. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) bans the manufacture, importation, processing, and distribution in commerce of certain asbestos-containing products. In addition, the TSCA bans "new uses" of asbestos, which is defined as asbestos use in products that "have not historically contained asbestos."
Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), the following uses of asbestos are banned:
  • Asbestos pipe insulation and asbestos block insulation on facility components, such as boilers and hot water tanks, if the materials are either pre-formed (molded) and friable or wet-applied and friable after drying
  • Spray-applied surfacing asbestos-containing materials
  • Spray-on application of materials containing more than 1% asbestos to buildings, structures, pipes, and conduits
Additional regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other government agencies exist. Regulatory agencies could specify the use of D7521 procedures to check for compliance with local, state, and federal laws regarding asbestos.
References: ASTM International (February 4, 2013) "Asbestos In Soil - New ASTM International Standard." Retrieved on February 9, 2013, from
Environmental Protection Agency. “U.S. Federal Bans on Asbestos.” Retrieved on February 9, 2013.
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