What is Asbestos

Referred to as the “miracle mineral” the word asbestos is derived from the Greek adjective meaning inextinguishable. Asbestos is a generic name for a set of six naturally occurring minerals. In its raw form, asbestos is a long fibrous crystal with each fibre composed of microscopic fibrils. The two classes of asbestos are the Serpentine class of fibres (curly) and the Amphibole class (needle-like).

asbestos green

Why it was used

Asbestos was used in many building materials because of the properties it possesses. The fibres are resistant to heat and chemicals, add tensile strength to materials, are good insulators, and are flame retardant. Asbestos fibres were mixed into concrete, coatings, sealants, and other materials to give them these properties.

Homes built before 1990 are highly likely to have been built with Asbestos Containing Materials (ACM) and pose a risk to homeowners and workers involved in renovation or demolition projects. Insulation, drywall taping compound, linoleum, floor tiles, and roofing are common building materials in homes that may contain asbestos. Steam boilers, pipes, and other objects in buildings that must withstand high temperatures are also common places to find ACM.

What are the Dangers

All forms of the asbestos mineral are known carcinogens. Airborne fibres can be inhaled into the lungs and lead to serious chronic health conditions such as Mesothelioma, Asbestos-related lung cancer, Asbestosis, and Pleural thickening. Asbestos is one of the “hidden killers” because most people do not know they are being exposed. Disturbing materials that contain asbestos can release the microscopic fibres into the air where they can remain suspended for hours and risk inhalation by you or others.

Asbestos in Your Home

For the most part, many of us have lived harmoniously with the asbestos in our houses for decades. It only becomes a problem when modifications are made during small DIY jobs, larger renovations or complete demolitions. Common activities that could potentially disturb ACM and put people at risk:

  • Removing/replacing/drilling into drywall and plaster
  • Removing vinyl sheet (linoleum) flooring and/or floor tiles
  • Disturbing textured ceilings including dusting, vacuuming, and painting
  • Doing work in attics or crawl spaces
  • Maintenance of furnaces or old pipes