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PLM by NIOSH 9002

Laboratory Equipment

PLM by NIOSH 9002

In 1989, NIOSH released the first edition of its own asbestos analyzing method, named NIOSH 9002.

It requires a lab to use a stereo microscope: 10-45X and a polarized light microscope 100-400X with dispersion staining objective to determine the presence of asbestos.

It recommends the analyst to measures percent asbestos by comparison to standard area projections, photos, and drawings, or trained experience. The method is not applicable to samples containing large amounts of fine fibers below the resolution of the light microscope. The method also cautions other fibers with optical properties similar to the asbestos minerals may give positive interferences. Optical properties of asbestos may be obscured by coating on the fibers. Fibers finer than the resolving power of the microscope (ca. 0.3 ěm) will not be detected. Heat and acid treatment may alter the index of refraction of asbestos and change its color.


visually examine samples in the container and with a low-magnification stereomicroscope in a hood. (If necessary, a sample may be carefully removed from the container and placed on glassine transfer paper or clean glass plate for examination). Break off a portion of the sample and examine the edges for emergent fibers. Note the homogeneity of the sample. Some hard tiles can be broken, and the edges examined for emergent fibers. If fibers are found, make an estimate of the amount and type of fibers present, confirm fiber type (step 14) and quantify (step 15). In a hood, open sample container and with tweezers remove small, representative portions of the sample. If there are obvious separable layers, sample and analyze each layer separately.

If the sample appears to be slightly inhomogeneous, mix it in the sample container with tweezers or a spatula before taking the portion of analysis. Alternatively, take small representative portions of each type of material and place on a glass slide.

On hard tiles that may have thin, inseparable layers, use a scalpel to cut through all the layers for a representative sample. Then cut it into smaller pieces after placing RI liquid on it before trying to reduce the thickness. Alternatively, use a low-speed hand drill equipped with a burr bit to remove material from hard tiles. Avoid excessive heating of the sample which may alter the optical properties of the material.

If the sample has large, hard particles, grind it in a mortar. Do not grind so fine that fiber characteristics are destroyed.

If necessary, treat a portion of the sample in a hood with an appropriate solvent to remove binders, tars, and other interfering materials which may be present in the sample. Make corrections for the non-asbestos material removed by this process.

Other methods of sample preparation such as acid washing and sodium metaphosphate treatment and ashing may be necessary, especially to detect low concentrations of asbestos. If needed, use as described in Reference [1].

After placing a few drops of RI liquid on the slide, put a small portion of sample in the liquid. Tease apart with a needle or smash small clumps with the flat end of a spatula or probe, producing a uniform thickness or particles so that better estimates of projected area percentages can be made. Mix the fibers and particles on the slide so that they are as homogeneous as possible.

An even dispersion of sample should cover the entire area under the cover slip. some practice will be necessary to judge the right amount of material to place on the slide. Too little sample may not give sufficient information and too much sample cannot be easily analyzed.


Scan the slide to identify any asbestos minerals using the optical properties of morphology, refractive indices, color, pleochroism, birefringence, extinction characteristics, sign of elongation, and dispersion staining characteristics.

Identification of asbestos using polarized light microscopy is unlike most other analytical methods. The quality of the results is dependent on the skill and judgment of the analyst. This method does not lend itself easily to a step-wise approach. Various procedures devised by different analysts may yield equivalent results. The following step-wise procedure repeatedly utilizes the sample preparation procedure previously outlined.

a. Prepare a slide using 1.550 HD RI liquid. Adjust the polarizing filter such that the polars are partially crossed, with ca. 15E offset. Scan the preparation, examining the morphology for the presence of fibers. If no fibers are found, scan the additional preparations. If no fibers are found in any of the preparations, report that the sample does not contain asbestos, and stop the analysis at this point.

b. If fibers are found, adjust the polarizing filter such that the polars are fully crossed. If all of the fibers are isotropic (disappear at all angles of rotation) then those fibers are not asbestos. Fibrous glass and mineral wool, which are common components of suspect samples, are isotropic. If only isotropic fibers are found in the additional preparations, report no asbestos fibers detected, and stop the analysis.

c. If anisotropic fibers are found, rotate the stage to determine the angle of extinction. Except for tremolite-actinolite asbestos which has oblique extinction at 10-20E, the other forms of asbestos exhibit parallel extinction (Table 1). Tremolite may show both parallel and oblique extinction.

To determine the direction of the sign of elongation on a particular microscope configuration, examine a known chrysotile sample and note the direction (NE-SW or NW-SE) of the blue coloration. Chrysotile has a positive sign of elongation.

e. Remove the first-order red compensator and uncross the polarizer. Examine under plane polarized light for blue and gold-brown Becke colors at the fiber-oil interface (i.e., index of refraction match). Becke colors are not always evident. Examine fiber morphology for twisted, wavy bundles of fibers which are characteristic of chrysotile. Twisted, ribbon-like morphology with cellular internal features may indicate cellulose fibers. It may be necessary to cross the polars partially in order to see the fibers if the index of refraction is an exact match at 1.550. If the fibers appear to have higher index of refraction, go to step "h," otherwise continue.

f. Identification of chrysotile. Insert the dispersion staining objective. Observation of dispersion staining colors of blue and blue-magenta confirms chrysotile. Cellulose, which is a common interfering fiber at the 1.550 index of refraction, will not exhibit these dispersion staining colors. If chrysotile is found, go to step 15 for quantitative estimation.
g. Identification of crocidolite. Prepare a slide in 1.700 RI liquid. Examine under plane-polarized light (uncrossed polars); check for morphology of crocidolite. Fibers will be straight, with rigid appearance, and may appear blue or purple-blue. Crocidolite is pleochroic, i.e., it will appear to change its color (blue or gray) as it is rotated through plane polarized light. Insert the dispersion staining objective. The central stop dispersion staining color are red magenta and blue magenta, however, these colors are sometimes difficult to impossible to see because of the opacity of the dark blue fibers. If observations above indicate crocidolite, go to step 15 for quantitative estimation.

h. Identification of amosite. Prepare a slide in 1.680 RI liquid. Observed the fiber morphology for amosite characteristics: straight fibers and fiber bundles with broom-like or splayed ends. If the morphology matches amosite, examine the fibers using the dispersion staining objective. Blue and pale blue colors indicate the cummingtonite form of amosite, and gold and blue colors indicate the grunerite form of amosite. If amosite is confirmed by this test, go to step 15 for quantitative estimation, otherwise continue.

In this refractive index range, wollastonite is a common interfering mineral with similar morphology including the presence of cleavage fragments. It has both positive and negative sign of elongation, parallel extinction, and central stop dispersion staining colors of pale yellow and pale yellow to magenta. If further confirmation of wollastonite versus anthophyllite is needed, go to step "j". If any of the above forms of asbestos were confirmed above, go to step 15 for quantitative estimation. If none of the tests above confirmed asbestos fibers, examine the additional preparations and if the same result occurs, report the absence of asbestos in this sample.

j. Wash a small portion of the sample in a drop of concentrated hydrochloric acid on a slide. Place the slide, with cover slip in place, on a warm hot plate until dry. By capillary action, place 1.620 RI liquid under the cover clip and examine the slide. Wollastonite fibers will have a "cross-hatched" appearance across the length of the fibers and will not show central stop dispersion colors. Anthophyllite and tremolite will still show their original dispersion colors.

There are alternative analysis procedures to the step-wise approach outlined above which will yield equivalent results.


Express the estimate as an area percent of all material present, taking into account the loading and distribution of all sample material on the slide. Use Figure 1 as an aid in arriving at your estimate. If additional unidentified fibers are present in the sample, continue with the qualitative measurement.

As it can be seen, this method is similar to EPA/600/R-93/116 (June. 1993) in essence.

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