Asbestos: What is it?

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals used in many building products because it adds strength, heat resistance, and chemical resistance. Asbestos is a hazardous material. Its fibers are extremely fine and can stay suspended in the air for hours.

If employers and workers do not take proper precautions for work around asbestos, workers may develop serious chronic health problems or even die of an asbestos-related disease. These same health affects apply to everyone.

When and where was it used?

In 1984 asbestos was banned from products in Canada such as building materials for residential and commercial structures. It was expected that asbestos products ran out by the late-1980s and so the cut-off was set at December 31st, 1990 to account for unused stockpiles. Unused asbestos-containing products are still found, for example, in old storage rooms, such as boxes of unused floor tiles or unmixed drywall mud.

Asbestos was used in more than 3000 building products in Canada alone, such as:

• sheet vinyl flooring (SVF) especially the paper backed kind
• vinyl floor tile (VFT)
• flooring mastics
• mastic adhesives
• around floor HVAC registers
• white fibrous tape wrapped around ducting joints
• cement (transite) exterior siding or piping
• drywall joint compound
• textured exterior paint
• textured walls and ceilings
• plaster
• transite board around furnace ductwork
• joint mortar
• sealant around fireplace and roof protrusions
• roof shingles
• felt paper
• tar paper under flooring
• window mastic or putty
• insulation around sinks
• and many more products

It is also found naturally in vermiculite insulation situated between attic joists, inside wall cavities and cinder block in both residential and commercial properties.

What’s the Risk?

Asbestos fibers on human hair.

Asbestos minerals tend to separate into microscopic particles that become airborne and are easily inhaled. People exposed to asbestos in the workplace have developed several types of life-threatening diseases, including lung cancer.

Like any hazard, length, intensity and frequency of exposure are major factors in the risk of asbestos-related respiratory illness. WorkSafeBC has set out very specific regulations regarding exposure potential for workers who may be exposed to asbestos.

For a property owner, it is best not to disturb materials that may release asbestos fibers into the air, such as cutting into drywall, scrapping popcorn ceilings, removing sheet vinyl or vinyl floor tile, removing ductwork, chimneys, tile, etc. If the attic or walls of a structure contain vermiculite insulation, leave it alone. Avoid disturbing the material. Do not sweep it or vacuum it up. Do not store belongings, or allow anyone to perform work in the attic, such as installing pot lights in a room below the attic.

How to minimize the Risk

To prevent health problems, WorkSafeBC has developed requirements detailed in the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations that Hazardous Material Abatement Contractor’s must adhere to when conducting removal and disposal of Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs).

Check out the WorkSafeBC site for more information!