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A Review of DIY Test Kits
Is there a home test kit for asbestos?
No! The test kits that retail for $8 to $16 (e.g. Pro Lab AS108) merely contain a pair of rubber gloves, a ziplock bag and instructions. These materials have a value of about one dollar! You still have to pay an additional $40 lab analysis fee for samples. The total cost ends up being comparable to a DIYSampleTesting.com test of $55 for one sample at two week turnaround or a slightly better value if you have two samples. The "test kits" that retail for $75-225 (e.g. SLGI 2468) do typically include the cost of analyses and include various options for asbestos, mold and/or lead paint on the same sample. It can be a better value The cost of SLGI is comparable but does not include interpretation of results.
Isn't there a chemical fingerprint test kit or an instrument that can instantaneously test for asbestos?
No. The asbestos is made up of various non-toxic and common minerals found in sand and soil. It is the special crystalline arrangement of these minerals that makes a mineral asbestos. Asbestos has a unique structure of bundles of coarse fibers that can be broken down into small fibers. Even the parent rock is not necessarily asbestos---the mineral often must be processed for it to take on its fully fibrous form. The only way to identify asbestos is by looking at the optical properties of the fibers under a high powered microscope. It is unlikely that even robots can be taught to analyze the optical properties, at least in the near future. Although many chemical and analytical tests can be performed almost instantaneously, asbestos will never be one of them.
Chemical swab brands that have been evaluated and approved by the USEPA (e.g. 3M Lead Check) are actually rather accurate when used properly. Some in my profession would seek to discredit a $4 to $7 swab when compared to a $20,000 lead testing instrument. However, lead swabs can be reasonably accurate for their intended purpose and the degree that the swab changes color is a good gauge of relative lead content. A homeowner or renovator doesn’t often need an exact numerical reading of lead content. In general, the darker the color, the more lead there is. Therefore, a swab tells you that the darker the color, the more caution and dust controls need to be used. However, there is some skill involved in using the swab properly. It should be noted that contractor RRP lead certification includes training in use of the swabs. An uncertified contractor should not perform a lead swab check and rely on a negative result that no lead paint controls are required. Because assessing color is subjective, there are times when an inconclusive (borderline) result is obtained. There are a few known interferences with the accuracy of the test as well.
How good are lead test swabs?
Pro-Lab offers a settled dust kit (M0109) that retails for $9 to $15. The kit includes an inline filter for your vacuum. The filter sample is then shipped by the customer to the lab for analyses, which requires payment of an additional $40 for the lab fee. The problem with this is interpretation of the results. There are no standards for mold spores and fragments in dust. Therefore, unless you get very low or very severe results, it will be very difficult to interpret the results. The fallacy associated with testing dust by use of a vacuum is that it proves there is nothing difficult about removing mold spores by vacuuming! If you think you have mold in your carpet or on a hard surface, just clean it! The same reasoning applies to surface tape or swab sampling kits, which can be used to identify the type of mold present. However, there are some valid reasons to identify the type of mold present when visible mold is evident or suspected. Surface sample kits including the cost of analyses range from $46 to $70, which are relatively comparable to a DIYSampleTesting.com test of $55 for two week turnaround.
Online customer reviews
of low-cost DIY
test kits are generally poor
The main problems cited include:
test results take longer than advertised
the interpretation or usefulness of the results is exaggerated