What are the risks of asbestos?
Asbestos is extremely hazardous to human health and has caused millions of deaths worldwide. It causes lung cancer, mesothelioma (cancer in the lining of the lungs), asbestosis and less serious conditions such as lung irritation and coughing. Many of these conditions are life-threatening and untreatable, so the only safe thing to do with asbestos is to avoid it at all costs.
Asbestos fibers break up into tiny particles that are invisible to the naked eye and can float in the air. When breathed in, these particles enter airways and embed themselves in the lungs, causing serious inflammation.
The human body does not know how to get rid of asbestos particles, so they accumulate in the lungs over time. With enough time and exposure, asbestos can develop from a minor irritant into a death sentence. Several factors affect how big of a threat asbestos exposure is. These include:
- Concentration of airborne particles;
- Duration of exposure;
- Frequency of exposure;
- Size of particles inhaled; and
- Time elapsed since first exposure.
Homes are the perfect place for asbestos-related diseases because so many of the factors listed above are at play.
Air in most homes is quite stagnant—especially now that more energy-efficient insulation has made modern homes nearly airtight. This means that asbestos has plenty of time to accumulate in the air.
Also, people spend a lot of time in their homes every day, increasing the duration and frequency of exposure. If you are going to be at risk of asbestos-related illness, your home is the most likely place where this will happen.
How prevalent is asbestos?
Humans discovered and began mining asbestos thousands of years ago. Its strong resistance to heat and fire was unique in the natural world and made it useful for a variety of purposes.
The Ancient Greeks wove asbestos fibers into clothing so that it could be cleaned by simply throwing it into a fire pit. Over time, humans discovered more and more uses for asbestos until, by the mid-20th century, it was used in a staggering array of products. Everything from oven mitts to insulation was made with asbestos. Asbestos was even crumbled up for fake snow in movies and department store window displays.
Humans thought asbestos was so safe that it was even used in toothpaste! It made perfect sense to use asbestos because it was plentiful, useful and the health risks were not known yet. By all indications, people were making their lives safer by surrounding themselves with a fire-resistant material.
Scientists began raising concerns about the health risks of asbestos in the 1930s, but this research took a long time to reach an audience outside the scientific community. As with cigarettes and other dangerous products, the asbestos industry used its political and financial clout to suppress information about the health risks of asbestos.
Due to this suppression, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the health risks became well known. For this reason, the use of asbestos in building materials was widespread in Canada until 1990. Since then, public awareness about the health risks associated with asbestos have made it less prevalent.
However, Canada didn’t ban asbestos until 2016, so despite awareness of the health risks, its use in construction continued until very recently. It can still be found in tiles, shingles, paint, insulation and other materials.
When does asbestos become dangerous?
As recently as 2011, Health Canada has claimed that “all scientific reviews clearly confirm that chrysotile fibers can be used safely under controlled conditions.” This claim has been used as a rationale to not ban asbestos, which has allowed construction companies to continue using materials containing asbestos.
The position of Health Canada flies in the face of a vast body of evidence and runs counter to the policy of dozens of developed countries. It is also contradicted by statistical data, which find that deaths from asbestos-related illness increased from 2000 to 2012.
When Canada finally legislated a ban on asbestos in 2016, it was only the 59th country to do so. Despite this ban, Health Canada assures Canadians that asbestos is not a problem unless it is disturbed. If you have asbestos insulation, for example, it will not pose a threat so long as it stays sealed inside your walls.
However, the only way to ensure that asbestos insulation is never disturbed is to never live in your home. Realistically, you will make holes in the wall while hanging pictures, renovating, moving furniture or even as a result of simple trips or falls.
Asbestos insulation will also be disturbed if mice or other rodents make a home in your walls. In this case, mice will emerge from the walls covered in asbestos and track it all over your home, especially places where they search for food, such as your kitchen!
Despite Health Canada’s advice, the only way to be absolutely certain that you and your family are safe from asbestos is to live in a home that doesn’t have any. In order to do that, you have to either live in a home that is no more than a year old or find and eliminate all sources of asbestos in your home.
The government is not doing its job of protecting Canadians, so homeowners have to do everything they can to protect themselves.
How do you find out if your home contains asbestos?
If your home was built before 1990, the likelihood that it has some materials containing asbestos is quite high. The chances that your home contains asbestos is even higher if it was built earlier than that.
If your home was built more recently, it still likely contains asbestos, albeit in fewer materials and in lower quantities than in homes built before 1990.
If possible, you should contact the company that built your home and ask them if any of the materials they used contained asbestos. However, construction companies are not always easy to reach and there is no guarantee that the information they give you will be accurate. If you want to be absolutely certain that your house is asbestos-free, you need to hire a qualified professional to conduct an asbestos inspection.
How do you remove asbestos from your home?
Asbestos is very brittle and light, so the slightest disturbance can fill the air with tiny particles. You should never try to remove asbestos from your home on your own. It takes a great deal of expertise and experience—not to mention equipment—to handle such a fragile and dangerous material safely.
For starters, all affected areas of your home need to be sealed off (so that they are airtight), then ventilated with HEPA filters so that asbestos particles don’t spread beyond the sealed areas. Anyone working within the sealed area needs to wear a hazmat suit and a respirator.
Any contaminated materials need to be deposited in airtight containers and removed from the home. Finally, once all contaminated materials have been removed, all affected areas need to be thoroughly cleaned so asbestos particles that have settled on interior surfaces do not become airborne once you return to the affected area.
Every stage of this process is accompanied by significant health risks to both the people removing the asbestos and anyone else occupying the affected areas after removal. You may be tempted to tackle the abatement on your own because it can save you some money, but no amount of savings is worth the risk to your or your family’s health.
Don’t wait until you or someone you love has developed a life-threatening illness to find out if your house contains asbestos. Protect yourself and your family by contacting professionals for an inspection and, if asbestos is discovered, removal.
Mold Busters employs certified hazardous materials specialists and delivers high-quality asbestos abatement services at affordable prices. Contact us today if you want to have clean indoor air and peace of mind.