Asbestos is one of the deadliest materials linked to the hard to detect sick building syndrome (SBS). SBS can occur when people are exposed to air pollutants indoors in either a home or a business and can cause illness or even lead to diseases which can be fatal. Sick building syndrome can be caused by a wide variety of pollutants including but not limited to nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and heavy metals such as mercury and lead.
One particularly dangerous substance found in many older homes and offices is asbestos. While asbestos is sometimes linked as a cause of sick building syndrome, it is often referred to simply as a building related illness, rather than being grouped in the more general sick building syndrome. Regardless of how it is defined, asbestos is a serious threat to the health of any individual who comes into contact with it.
How does Asbestos kill?
Asbestos is safe as long as it is left in an undamaged condition. However, as soon as it is broken, fibres enter into the air and are taken into the lungs. The higher and more often the exposure to asbestos, the higher the risk of later developing asbestos-related diseases. Since asbestos-related diseases can take 10 years or more to emerge, the exposure you, your family or your employees are getting now may show no ill-effects but prove to be deadly in time. Each of the three diseases has been linked to asbestos exposure, and can prove to be deadly:
- Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease that can cause scar tissue throughout the lungs and can lead to a reduced respiratory capacity and other lung diseases including lung cancer.
is a type of cancer which grows in the lining of the lung or the lining of the abdominal cavity and is caused by asbestos (particularly Crocidolite asbestos) as well as other factors.
- Lung cancers indistinguishable from those caused by other factors, such as cigarettes, are more likely with exposure to asbestos.
What types of asbestos are there?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral which comes in several different types, normally referred to by their colour. Asbestos was originally mined and used in building materials because it had a large number of useful properties such as strength, resistance to fire
and relatively low price, it was only later that it was found to be cancer-causing and usage. Here are some of the most prevalent types:
- Chrysotile or white asbestos is the most common cause of asbestos and the type you aremost likely to find in Canada and was used as a general building material throughout homes and offices.
- Amosite or brown asbestos comes from Africa and is most common there, but can be found
used in pipe insulation.
- Crocidolite or blue asbestos is known as the most dangerous type and was mined predominantly in South Africa, Australia and Bolivia.
Is my home or business at risk?
Canada was a significant miner of chrysotile asbestos and in 1966 was producing as much as 40% of the world’s output of chrysotile asbestos (source:asbestos.com). Naturally as a high producer of asbestos Canadian homes used a lot of it in the building process and any building built prior to 1990 is likely to have some asbestos in it. While asbestos is relatively harmless while untouched if you are doing or have done any renovation work, you should take precautions to reduce the risk to yourself and your family or business.
If you are concerned about asbestos in your home and business the first place to start is with a survey by a qualified professional. This will reveal how much asbestos you have in your building and what the risk to health is to you and those around you. After the inspection, you will have a good idea of the amount of asbestos-removal that needs to take place to reduce this risk to a minimal level. If you are concerned that your building may have asbestos in it is highly recommended that you have a survey done since the risk to health can be high.