What is it?
Asbestos is a group of minerals that are formed naturally as bundles of fibres, which can be separated into thin threads. These fibres are not affected by heat or chemicals and they do not conduct electricity. Hence, asbestos was once widely used in homes as insulation, sound absorption and for fire protection. For structural enhancement, it was also added to cement and plaster for more structural strength.
How was it used?
Until the early 1980s, more than 5,000 products contain asbestos and of the 5,000, over 3,000 products were used in house construction prior to late 1980s. They include:
- Asbestos cement sheet and pipe products used for water supply, sewage piping,
- Casing for electrical wires electrical switchboards and components,
- Fire protection material,
- Ceiling and floor tile,
- Paint, coatings and adhesives,
- Caulking and patching tape,
- Artificial ashes and embers for use in gas-fired fireplaces,
Why is it hazardous?
If any asbestos-containing materials are left intact, they pose little danger of releasing asbestos fibres into the air you breathe. They only become hazardous when they are disturbed, especially when they are handled, sanded, drilled into, or broken up so that they crumble and separate into thin threads.
What are the risks?
Exposing and Inhaling asbestos fibres may increase the risk of several serious health problems because the fibres makes breathing difficult and may lead to fatal diseases such as pneumonia, heart disease, permanent lung damage, lung cancer, mesothelioma which is a rare cancer of the linings of the lungs and abdomen, and other cancers, such as larynx, oropharynx, gastronintestinal tract and kidney cancer.
The risk of developing these health problem increases with the amount of asbestos in the air one inhales and the length of time one is exposed to it.
Who is at risks?
Nearly everyone is exposed to it at some point, but most people don’t become ill from exposure of asbestos. People who become ill are usually those who are exposed to it on a regular basis where they work directly with the material or through substantial environmental contact; for instance, demolition workers, drywall removers, renovator, and firefighters. Smokers are at an increased risk.
What are the symptoms?
Individuals who have been exposed to asbestos fibres on the job or at home may not become ill for many decades after exposure. The usual symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath,
- Cough or change in cough pattern,
- Blood in the fluid coughed up from the lungs,
- Pain in the chest or abdomen,
- Difficulty in swallowing or prolonged hoarseness,
- Significant weight loss.
However, if any of the following symptoms develop, a physical examination should be scheduled immediately. Asbestos fibres can usually be detected in urine, feces, mucus, or material rinsed out of the lungs, a chest X-ray and a lung function tests are also recommended.
What can homeowners do?
If you own an older home and would like to do your own renovations, you need to take precautions to avoid exposing and inhaling asbestos fibres. Asbestos-containing materials must be identified, disturbed and removed by qualified asbestos removal specialists. They should wear protective clothing and a proper respirator which has a NIOSH 100 (HEPA) filter during the removal of any asbestos. All asbestos-containing materials must be disposed properly to prevent any contamination in landfills.
Where can I find qualified help?
Qualified help can be found under Asbestos Abatement & Removal, Environmental & Ecological Services or Health & Safety Consultants in Yellow Pages.
Information provided by WCB of BC