Asbestos refers to a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals that have the ability to resist heat, fire and electricity.
Although asbestos fibers are microscopic in nature, they are extremely durable and resistant to fire and most chemical reactions and breakdowns. These properties of asbestos supported its use for many years in a number of different commercial and industrial settings, as well as in a wide range of consumer products. Although its use has diminished in recent decades, there are still many products that contain asbestos, especially in older homes, schools, and public buildings.
Health Issues related to Asbestos – Asbestos is made up of microscopic fibers that can easily become airborne and inhaled. Because of their shape, the asbestos particles cling to tissues of the lungs and other areas of the respiratory system. Over time, these tiny fibers can cause inflammation, causing a number of health problems, the three biggest of which are:
1.Mesothelioma – This aggressive cancer forms in the thin membrane (mesothelium) that protects vital organs in the chest and abdomen. Exposure to asbestos is the only medically-verified cause of the disease.
2.Lung Cancer – Most commonly associated with factors like smoking and radon, lung cancer is also known to be exacerbated by exposure to asbestos.
3.Asbestosis – This degenerative respiratory condition results from the formation of scar tissue plaques on the surface of the pleura (lung linings). It can be a precursor to the onset of mesothelioma.
More information can be found at the Mesothelioma.com website.
Who is at Risk?– Because asbestos was used in thousands of commercial products up until approx 1980’s and in some cases until 1990 and in several industries, exposure to Asbestos was common in a long list of trades and occupations. Exposure may also be of concern if you happen to work or go to school where asbestos products, especially friable type of asbestos, is still found. Friable is a term given to a material which can easily be broken up (by hand, or mechanical damage) exposing particles of the material, some of which may be asbestos.
Where can Asbestos be found?– Some of the more common areas asbestos may be found would be:
- Attics – Vermiculite Insulation (Zonolite Attic Insulation) was used in 1970’s and 1980’s. See picture to the right.
- Exterior Building Material – cement siding, cement roof panels, loose fill insulation (Vermiculite).
- Floor Finishes – Vinyl asbestos tiles, sheet vinyl flooring, floor leveling compound, linoleum flooring, mastic.
- Ceiling Structures – lay-in and stick up ceiling tiles, acoustic and stucco sprayed, plaster or drywall jointing material
- Walls – plaster or drywall jointing materials, sprayed fireproofing, asbestos transite panels.
- Mechanical and Fan Rooms – insulation on boiler pipes, vessels, ducts, walls, ceilings, around furnaces and furnace plenums.
- Mechanical Pipe Systems – steam and hot water heating supply and return lines, insulated pipes.
- Mechanical Heating Systems – Boilers wrapped with insulation and the heating ducts or registers/pipes.
Literally 1000’s of products contained Asbestos – Residential and Commercial Construction, the list is extensive. mesothelioma website has more information on Asbestos Containing Material, when you land on the page, scroll down a bit you will see it.
Why should you care?– In Canada there are strict requirements for renovating, remodeling or even demolishing a building constructed prior to 1980 and in some cases in some building constructed after 1980. You can’t just go in and demolish or renovate an older building this may disturb and release material which may contain asbestos, possibly harming the workers and or employees. Ontario Regulation 278/05 has put into place specific removal guidelines to help protect people. As a building owner/corporation you may be fined.
Why test for Asbestos?– As a home owner you may or may not be subject to the Ontario Regulation 278/05, however understanding what your property may contain is important for you and your family’s health, especially if you intend to renovate or remodel. The contractors you hire may also need to understand what they are working with. Identifying asbestos containing material is a start, then a laboratory test should be done to confirm. There are so many variations of material which may or may not contain asbestos, it is virtually impossible to tell by just looking at it. Testing is the only conclusive way.
When do you test for Asbestos? – Testing for asbestos should be done on homes or buildings built prior to 1980. Also, if you intend to do any remodeling or renovations. In some cases, if you do not disturbed the material and it is not friable then you may be able to leave it alone and or encapsulate (sealing the material) it, this should only be determined after it has been examined and tested by a professional.
Who can test for Asbestos?– Sampling for Asbestos may be costly, since multiple samples of the same substance maybe required (refer to the Ontario regulation 287/05 table 1). Example, Vermiculite Insulation (Zonolite Attic Insulation) in an attic or behind walls may cost $800 or more to collect samples (min 3 samples in properly identified areas) and have them tested by a qualified laboratory. Can you collect your own samples and save money? People always ask me this question…I highly recommend you read the Ontario Regulation 278/05 in it’s entirety and decide on your own. Having said that, when dealing with asbestos, I personally recommend to use a qualified specialist because not only will you most likely need multiple samples, you will need to know where to collect them and you also need to protect yourself from exposure.
Taking your own Samples?– If you decide to collect your own samples and send them into a laboratory, which I highly discourage. Here you will find a list of labs in Ontario for testing of Asbestos and or Mold. If you look around the sites they may also provide sampling instructions.
Sample Testing – Mold and or Asbestos Laboratories
MBL – Mold Lab – MBL Website
EMSL Canada – Mold/Asbestos – EMSL Canada Website
Paracel Lab – Mold/Asbestos – Paracel Lab Website
Pinchin – Mold/Asbestos – Pinchin Website
LCS Laboratory – LCS Laboratory Website