**USGSdevelops hand-held test for insulation contaminated with Libby asbestos **
As many as 30 million houses in the United States may have asbestos-contaminated insulation from Libby’s vermiculite mine installed in their attics.
Now a hand-held test can confirm if someone’s home has a health hazard or material from a safer source.
“Home inspectors now can go into an attic, and ifthey see vermiculite, they’ll take a sample and send to an off-site lab,” saidU.S.
Geological Survey scientist Gregg Swayze. “It’s not complicated, but it takes time — maybe a week or two."
With the new hand-held test, inspectors "cango in with a drill-shaped spectrometer, stick it in the vermiculite, and itkicks back an answer that says ‘Libby.’”
Vermiculite is a naturally occurring collection of mica minerals that puffs up when roasted and makes effective home insulation.
It occurs in numerous places, including Virginia,South Carolina, South Africa and China.
The deposit in Libby contains enough asbestos contamination to cause serious health hazards.
More than1,100 people were diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases connected to exposure to Libby vermiculite.
More than 200 have already died from those diseases.
Swayze’s team was studying the asbestos problem in Libby and trying to perfect ways of confirming its presence in soil or mineareas
whenterrorists destroyed the World Trade Centers in 2001.
They went toNew York days after 9-11 because of concern the Twin Towers contained asbestos insulation.
They were able to use their methods testing thedust from the buildings’ collapse and found hazardous levels of high-pH combinations of cement and gypsum
[FONT=Lato] that led to health problems for many of the first responders to the catastrophe.
Thehand-held spectrometers get more common use in mining or pharmaceutical applications, determining the chemical composition of ore deposits or chemic al mixtures.
Swayze said he was trying to find a way of spotting the distinctive needle-like fibersof asbestos under a microscope when he realized the spectrometer offered aneasier method.
Spectrometerstease apart the colors of light given off when a substance burns, sort of likethe bands of color in a rainbow.
Each mineral has a distinctive combination of color bands, like a chemical fingerprint.
“Nowwhen you get the report, you can say if it’s from Libby and has the potential to contain asbestos, and this is what you can do about it,” Swayze said.
The downside is the handheldspectrometers cost about $50,000 apiece.
Libbyvermiculite insulation was sold under the "Zonolite’’ brand name.
A Zonolite Attic Insulation Trust was established in 2014 and can reimburse qualified homeowners for up to $4,125 ofthe costs of removal.[/FONT]