The Devon-based company’s device uses lasers to detect the magnetic properties of asbestos minerals. According to Innovate UK, which has provided a loan to commercialise the product, the ALERT technology uses light-scattering techniques to identify the airborne fibres.
The detector then carries them through a magnetic field before repeating the light-scattering to see if the fibres have reacted. The reason for doing this is that asbestos fibres rotate and align themselves when exposed to a magnetic field – something other fibrous materials found in the same environments don’t do.
Innovate UK notes that air samples are currently sent to labs for analysis, which is time-consuming, costly; and in some cases the damage has already been done by the time the test results come back.
"This approach requires expensive lab work and hours of wait time," notes Alan Archer, Alert Technology managing director. "An alternative method is to use a real-time fibre detector, but the current, commercially-available versions are unable to distinguish between asbestos and other less dangerous fibres, like mineral wool, gypsum and glass.
"Alert Technology’s real-time asbestos detector will notify tradespeople immediately if they are exposed to airborne asbestos fibres in the environment. In doing so, it limits exposure to those living or working in the area, doesn’t hold up work while waiting for lab results in an area suspected of having asbestos, and returns a quick and cost-efficient result."
The company is developing two detectors with GPS and wireless remote communications and there have been more than 1,200 expressions of interest for the technology.