What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals. Mined and milled from native rock, asbestos is fibrous, thin, and strong. Chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite fibers are the most common types of asbestos minerals. However, only chrysotile, crocidolite, and amosite varieties are of industrial importance. Characteristics, like heat resistance, chemical inertness, and insulating capacity, coupled with the flexibility to be woven make asbestos suitable for use in many industrial applications.
What are the hazards of Asbestos?
Asbestos fibres embedded in lung tissue may develop into Mesothelioma – an incurable form of cancer
Renovating or demolishing houses containing asbestos products can release asbestos fibres, which are extremely fine and can stay in the air for hours. Breathing in asbestos fibres may cause serious health problems, including lung disease and cancer.
Asbestosis is the name given to scarring and stiffening of the lungs caused by inhaling asbestos dust over many years. It makes breathing difficult and may lead to fatal diseases such as pneumonia and heart disease. Exposure to asbestos can also cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, which is a rare cancer of the linings of the lungs and abdomen.
Asbestos-related diseases usually develop many years after a person has been exposed to asbestos. The risk of developing these diseases increases with the amount of asbestos in the air you inhale and the length of time you are exposed.
Asbestos Hazards in an Older Home
High concentration of asbestos found in cement
shingles also known as Transite Board.
When you are renovating or demolishing an older house, there is a very high probability of encountering asbestos containing building materials. Homes built from the early 1920s to the late 1990s are known to contain multiple types of asbestos containing products. There are hundreds of different asbestos containing building materials above and beyond insulation. Small percentages as low as 0.5% content pose a health risk to one’s health and need to be removed by a qualified and experienced abatement contractor.
List of Common Suspected Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs):
Please be aware that if asbestos containing materials are in good condition and left intact, they do not pose a significant danger of releasing asbestos. These materials are only hazardous when they deteriorate or are disturbed, such as when they are handled, sanded, drilled into, or broken up so that they crumble.
- Blown Insulation
- Boiler Insulation
- Brick Mortar
- Cement Wall Board or Shingles
- Ceiling Tile
- Electrical Wiring
- Drywall Mud/ Joint Compound
- Duct Insulation
- Texture “popcorn” Ceiling
- Linoleum Flooring
- Paper Tape
- Pipe Insulation
- Roof Membrane and Shingle
- Transite or Cement Board
- Sheet Flooring
- Exterior Stucco
- Vermiculite Insulation
- Vinyl Floor Tile
- Window Caulking or Putty
This list is not comprehensive and contains only the most frequently occurring asbestos containing building materials found in older homes.
How do I find out if my house contains asbestos?
An Epoch Environmental technician adheres to WorkSafeBC’s minimum sampling guidelines when collecting suspected building materials. They are sent to an accredited laboratory, Epoch Analytical for testing.
It is not recommended that you collect samples on your own as you may not have knowledge about which materials may contain and where they may be concealed. Asbestos fibres are microscopic and cannot be identified with the naked eye. Furthermore, most city demolition permit processes require a Qualified Professional to conduct the Hazardous Materials Survey/Assessment.
What about Vermiculite Insulation?
Vermiculite insulation is commonly found in attics and crawlspaces
According to WorkSafeBC, vermiculite insulation containing ‘any %’ amount of asbestos is considered an asbestos containing material.
Vermiculite has been used in various industries for over 80 years. It is used in the construction, agricultural, horticultural and industrial markets. Vermiculite is the mineralogical name given to hydrated laminar magnesium-aluminum-iron silicate which resembles mica in appearance. Vermiculite has an unusual golden tan to iridescent white popcorn appearance.
Vermiculite is not a form of asbestos, however vermiculite ores from some mines have been found to naturally contain asbestos minerals, namely Actinolite and Tremolite. In BC, a significant quantity of our Vermiculite supply (sold under the trade name “Zonolite”) was extracted from the Libby Mine in Montana USA. This mine had a natural deposit of asbestos which resulted in the vermiculite being contaminated. If you have vermiculite in your home, it is reasonable to assume that is may be asbestos containing. Vermiculite insulation is commonly found in attic spaces, ceilings and behind the walls of older homes.
For more information, refer to Safe Work Practises for Handling Asbestos
What are the likely sources of asbestos in my home?
You can’t identify asbestos by looking at it. Asbestos fibers are microscopic. The only way to confirm its presence is to take a sample of the material and have it tested by an accredited laboratory.
Asbestos is often mixed with other materials. If you work in a building built before 1990, it’s likely that at least some parts of the building will contain asbestos.
There are over 3000 construction and industrial products. Common applications include:
Most products made today do not contain asbestos. Those few products made which still contain asbestos that could be inhaled are required to be labeled as such. However, until the 1970s, many types of building products and insulation materials used in homes contained asbestos. Common products that might have contained asbestos in the past, and conditions which may release fibers, include:
- STEAM PIPES, BOILERS, and FURNACE DUCTS insulated with an asbestos blanket or asbestos paper tape. These materials may release asbestos fibers if damaged, repaired, or removed improperly.
- RESILIENT FLOOR TILES (vinyl asbestos, asphalt, and rubber), the backing on VINYL SHEET FLOORING, and ADHESIVES used for installing floor tile. Sanding tiles can release fibers. So may scraping or sanding the backing of sheet flooring during removal.
- CEMENT SHEET, MILLBOARD, and PAPER used as insulation around furnaces and woodburning stoves. Repairing or removing appliances may release asbestos fibers. So may cutting, tearing, sanding, drilling, or sawing insulation.
- DOOR GASKETS in furnaces, wood stoves, and coal stoves. Worn seals can release asbestos fibers during use.
- SOUNDPROOFING OR DECORATIVE MATERIAL sprayed on walls and ceilings. Loose, crumbly, or water-damaged material may release fibers. So will sanding, drilling, or scraping the material.
- PATCHING AND JOINT COMPOUNDS for walls and ceilings, and TEXTURED PAINTS. Sanding, scraping, or drilling these surfaces may release asbestos.
- ASBESTOS CEMENT ROOFING, SHINGLES, and SIDING. These products are not likely to release asbestos fibers unless sawed, dilled, or cut. ARTIFICIAL ASHES AND EMBERS sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces. Also, other older household products such as FIREPROOF GLOVES, STOVE-TOP PADS, IRONING BOARD COVERS, and certain HAIRDRYERS.