What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a natural mineral. It is strong enough to resist high temperatures, chemical attack and wear. Asbestos crystals become long, flexible, silky fibres, so it can be made into a wide variety of forms, and can be added to materials as diverse as cotton and cement.
What has Asbestos been used for?
Asbestos has been used in hundreds of applications – during the 1800’s it insulated the hot engines, boilers & pipes of the Industrial Revolution. For half a century, until the 1980’s asbestos was used in commercial & residential construction. It was used to insulate hot water heating systems, (tanks and pipes), ceiling & floor tiles and was put into walls and ceilings as insulation against fire and sound.
How has the use of Asbestos changed?
When it became evident that regular exposure to asbestos involved health risks, the public became more concerned about exposure to asbestos in offices, schools, and, eventually, about all asbestos products. Concern for the health of asbestos workers was expressed as long ago as the late 1800's. The risks became more evident in the late 1960's, when workers who had been heavily exposed 20 to 30 years earlier showed increased incidence of lung disease. Occupational exposure is now strictly regulated by provincial governments.
Health Risks associated with Asbestos
Asbestos poses health risks only when fibres are in the air that people breathe. Asbestos fibres lodge in the lungs, causing scarring that can ultimately lead to severely impaired lung function (asbestosis) and cancers of the lungs or lung cavity.
Frequent or prolonged exposure to asbestos fibres may bring health risks. This can happen with the release of fibres into the air when asbestos-containing products break down, either through deterioration as they age or when they are cut. People can put themselves at risk — often without realizing it — This can occur in a number of situations:
- Disturbing loose-fill vermiculite insulation which may contain asbestos
- Removing deteriorating roofing shingles and siding containing asbestos, or tampering with roofing felt that contains asbestos
- Ripping away old asbestos insulation from around a hot water tank
- Sanding or scraping vinyl asbestos floor tiles
- Breaking apart acoustical ceilings tiles containing asbestos
- Sanding plaster containing asbestos, or sanding or disturbing acoustical plaster that gives ceilings and walls a soft, textured look
- Sanding or scraping older water-based asbestos coatings such as roofing compounds, spackling, sealants, paint, putty, caulking or drywall
- Sawing, drilling or smoothing rough edges of new or old asbestos materials
What you need to know?
If you do not know if products in your home contain asbestos, have an experienced contractor inspect & test them.
When disturbing an asbestos product, maximum precautions must be taken to safeguard the workers and anybody else who may be nearby. Asbestos dust must remain within the work area so that it cannot be breathed in by unprotected persons.
It is essential to take adequate precautions. Call a professional to ensure safe inspection and removal.
For more information on asbestos refer to:
It's Your Health — Vermiculite Insulation Containing Asbestos