Asbestos is a mineral fibre. It can be positively identified only with a special type of microscope. There are several types of asbestos fibres. In the past, asbestos was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance.
How can Asbestos affect my health?
From studies of people who were exposed to asbestos in factories and shipyards, we know that breathing high levels of asbestos fibres can lead to an increased risk of:
Mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity: and
Asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.
The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma increases with the number of fibres inhaled. The risk of lung cancer from inhaling asbestos fibres is also greater if you smoke. People who get asbestosis have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time. The symptoms of theses diseases do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos.
Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as well all are in our daily lives, do not develop these health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibres, which can be inhaled into the lungs. The fibres can remain there for a long time, increasing the risk of disease. Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard.
Where can I find asbestos and when can it be a problem?
Most products made today do not contain asbestos. However, until the late 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 fibres, include:
- Steam pipes, boilers and furnace ducts.
- Floor tiles, the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives under these products.
- Soundproofing or ceiling stipple.
- Wall plaster and joint compounds in walls and ceilings.
- Asbestos cement roofing, shingles and siding.
How can I get something in my home tested?
Contact Winnipeg Air Testing to receive your asbestos test kit. Simply collect a sample from your home and Winnipeg Air Testing will have the sample analyzed and report the results. For more information, please call Doug, 204-668-3141.
What should be done about asbestos in the home?
If you think asbestos may be in your home, don’t panic! Usually the best thing is to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone. Generally, material that is in good condition will not release asbestos fibres. There is no danger unless fibres are released and inhaled into the lungs.
Material suspected of containing asbestos should be tested. If asbestos is present, the proper precautions can be taken should it become damaged or need to be disturbed for renovation.
How to identify materials that contain asbestos.
You can’t tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it, unless it is labeled. If in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos. When collecting a sample, take care not to release asbestos fibres into the air or onto yourself.
Asbestos Dos and Don’ts for the Homeowner:
Do take every precaution to avoid damaging asbestos material.
Do have removal and major repair done by people trained and qualified in handling asbestos.
Don’t dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos.
Don’t saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes in asbestos materials.
Don’t use abrasive pads or brushes on power strippers to strip wax from asbestos flooring. Never use a power stripper on a dry floor.
Even minor repairs should be done by professionals since there is always a risk of exposure to fibres when asbestos is disturbed. Doing minor repairs yourself if not recommended since improper handling of asbestos materials can create a hazard where none existed.
Some types of removals can be performed without building an enclosure or hoarding around the work. Larger projects typically requires an enclosure or hoarding to be built to contain the work and control the spread of asbestos. These hoardings are ventilated and kept under negative pressure to ensure that dust or asbestos fibres that are present inside the hoarding cannot escape into the rest of the home. The hoarding must be tested (called an air clearance test) before the hoarding can be dismantled.
For more information on safe procedures to remove asbestos, consult Manitoba’s Asbestos Guidelines which can be found at the following website: http://safemanitoba.com/sites/default/files/uploads/guidelines/asbestosworkingwith.pdf