Asbestos was once a commonly used insulator because of the fact that it is fire / heat resistant, highly flexible and strong in tensile strength. Although use of the mineral group was regulated under section 112 of the Clean Air Act (1970), it remains in circulation throughout a variety of products and materials, most notably, building insulation.

Does the house you're working on contain asbestos?



Geoff Clark, Senior Occupational Hygienist with WorkSafeBC, presents a list of important characteristics to be aware of and look for when doing construction work on older homes. Most importantly, identify asbestos within any building under construction or demolition. With this video Geoff Clark will take you through a house and identify things that contain asbestos.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that is tough and very resistant to chemicals and heat. It was commonly used in building materials until the 1980's. If building materials containing Asbestos are disturbed, as in drilled, sawed, sanded, or broken up as in demolitions or renovations, then workers can breath in asbestos fibers. When workers breath in enough asbestos fibers, it can cause permanent damage to the lungs, and the worker can get lung cancer.

Any house built before 1980 will probably contain asbestos products. Before doing a house demolition or renovation and to avoid exposure to asbestos particles, is best and recommended to have the house inspected by a qualified asbestos professional. They will collect samples from suspect materials within the house and have them tested for asbestos. Building materials containing asbestos can look exactly like materials that do not contain asbestos. An inspection by a qualified laboratory is the only way to distinguish the difference. In some houses the asbestos containing materials can be in poor condition and therefore are a risk to the technicians collecting a sample.

  • Both plaster and drywall can contain asbestos. Asbestos containing drywall filler, or mud, is very common in housed constructed before 1990. Ceilings with sprayed on texturing may also contain asbestos. Many flooring materials contains asbestos such a Vinyl Sheet flooring and Vinyl tile flooring. Older homes may have several layers of flooring. The backing of Vinyl sheet flooring can contain asbestos.
  • Fireplaces may contain asbestos boards or pads below the mantel or hidden in the back of the fireplace. Artificial embers and ashes in gas fireplaces may also contain Asbestos.
  • House can be heated with heaters and boilers, and this equipment especially older boilers can be insulated with asbestos.
  • Seams of metal ducting are often covered with asbestos tape. Ducts and piping may also be wrapped in asbestos insulation.
  • Even the mastic used to seal pipes where they go through walls may contain asbestos.
  • The walls in some furnace rooms may be covered with asbestos cement board also known as Transite.
  • Many attics, particularly in British Columbia, are insulated and this insulation may contain asbestos. Sometimes the loose asbestos insulation layer is under a pink fiberglass insulation. Loose insulation, particularly Vermiculite attic insulation, is known to contain asbestos fibers.
  • Even the outside of older homes should be checked for asbestos products, include the putty of older windows. Asbestos cement siding is a commonly used material in older homes.
  • Asbestos is also found in common roofing materials including asphalt roofing shingles and asphalt roofing paper.
  • Concrete block walls are hollow and the spaces may have been filled with the same type of asbestos containing Vermiculite insulation that you can find in an attic.

Asbestos Caution!

For your safety any asbestos containing material that are found during a work site survey must be removed by workers who are trained in asbestos removal and wear protective clothing and a respirator. Unless you are properly trained, do not try to remove asbestos yourself.

Before you work on a house, ask if it has properly been inspected for asbestos.

A large percentage of buildings (including homes) throughout the United States remain lined with asbestos insulation. For the most part, buildings containing asbestos materials are labeled as such, providing tenants with important information so as to be aware of potential exposure risks (limiting liabilities).

If asbestos is sealed within the insulation then it is said to pose no health hazard whatsoever (the reason why known asbestos-laden buildings have not been demolished); however, if the asbestos is exposed, it can release potentially deadly asbestos fibers into your building. As a general rule of thumb, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises consumers to treat all insulating materials as though they contain asbestos in order to protect themselves from the potential health hazards. However, many people are unaware of the problem and may have been exposed, for example while renovating their home. It is recommended that a professional be consulted before the handling of any insulation materials so as to ensure the maximum amount of safety.

Removal or Repair?

If asbestos insulation becomes exposed, the problem can be remedied through either repair or removal. While most people might feel that removal is the safer option so as to avoid any such problems in the future, it is actually safer to simply repair the issue. The removal of asbestos insulation is a large-scale project that runs-the-risk of exposing all neighboring facilities to asbestos. It is possible for insulation to be damaged in such a way that repair is not possible, requiring removal; however, it is recommended that repair take place whenever possible.

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