Asbestos is comprised of several minerals that have been used for decades as an insulator for several products including homes all over the world. Although they are brown, green and blue in colour, the most common shade is white that is layered or a long chain-like structure and can be curly, sharp or in straight fibres. They can be commonly found in pipe and duct insulation, on heating systems, in sealers on heating boilers, roofing products, siding, stucco, plaster, drywall compound, panelling, ceiling tiles, floor tiles and sheet goods, wall and attic insulation. The inhalation of these materials can be hazardous.
If you recall some of the episodes of home design TV shows—Love it or List it and Property Brothers, etc.—you know that any kind of construction used to instantly stop once they found asbestos in the property. Asbestos, if released in air or if it is broken, can be dangerous as it can cause cancer and other lung diseases when inhaled by human beings. Because of demolition or renovation, these fibres are disturbed and are so minute that they remain in the air for a very long time.
Most of the time it is better to do nothing when it comes to removing the asbestos unless there is a danger of it being released into the air.
If that is the case make sure you are not removing it yourself. Call professionals who are trained to handle asbestos as they will clear the infected area in a proper manner. Before the professionals arrive make sure that the contaminated area is sealed and as a general rule children should be kept away from that specific zone. There is also guidance available from provincial ministries of Labour, Occupational Health and Safety Divisions on how to handle asbestos
According to national data, asbestos in Canada has been labelled as the single largest factor contributing to deaths on the job. In 2013, about 368 deaths reported were because of asbestos, which puts the fatality rate much higher than that caused from chemical exposures, highway accidents and fires combined. About 5,000 approved death claims in 1996 were related to asbestos exposure making it among the top causes of workplace deaths in Canada. The effect of asbestos is seen after 20 to 40 years, but it has been found that mesothelioma, which is an aggressive form of cancer, is caused mainly because of exposure to asbestos. Data from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada also confirms that mesothelioma was the biggest reason for 193 deaths in 2013 and asbestosis, a fibrosis of the lungs, was the reason for 82 fatalities.
Carex Canada, a research project funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, revealed that currently about 152,000 Canadian workers are exposed to asbestos. People working as specialty trade contractors, and who are in building construction, auto repairs and maintenance, ship and boat building and remediation and waste management, are most exposed to asbestos.
Once known for its quality and versatility, from heat resistance and tensile strength to insulating properties, asbestos was the prime choice for homes and commercial construction and was also used in making fireproof vests. It is mostly found in old houses, especially those built before 1990 as during those days they were used for insulating buildings and homes against cold weather and noise as well as for fireproofing.
There are six forms of asbestos minerals.
- Chrysotile- White in colour, this is the most common form found in walls, floors, roofs and ceilings of homes and business houses. About 90-95 per cent of asbestos found in buildings in Canada and the US is chrysotile.
- Amosite - Brown in colour, this type of asbestos originates largely from Africa. It is found mostly in cement sheet and pipe insulation and also insulating board.
- Crocidolite - Famous for having the best heat resistance, this asbestos is blue in colour. This is supposed to be the most dangerous type and is found in cement products, spray-on coatings and pipe insulation. It is mined mostly in Australia, South Africa and Bolivia.
- Tremolite- This white, green and even transparent asbestos can be sometimes found in roofing materials, paints and sealants.
- Anthophyllite- Mined mostly in Finland, this grey-brown colour asbestos was commonly found in composite flooring.
- Actinolite- Though never commercially used, this asbestos with a harsh texture can be found as a contaminant in some asbestos products.
Studies have revealed that asbestos can be clearly identified only by laboratory analysis. This observation makes home inspections redundant. Many houses have asbestos and if they are not disturbed they pose no harm. Removing it or not is a personal decision. But if you are considering the former, bear in mind the high expenses involved. One should also keep in mind that the area that is infected because of asbestos has to be gutted and the disposal of asbestos containing material is controlled in many places.
The cost of removing asbestos is between $1,500 to $3,000 depending on how much area has been infected and how much work is needed. However, asbestos not only affects the renovation cost but also has adverse effect on the purchase and insurance of the house.
Remember, there is no reason to try and remove asbestos unless there is a danger of it getting released in the air. However, it is important to be aware of the danger asbestos presents. If you're concerned about your property, always call a professional to inspect the asbestos levels in your home and to remove it in the best and safest way possible.
Title photo by Ian