WorkSafe Saskatchewan indicates that exposure to asbestos has been the leading cause of work-related deaths in Saskatchewan for the last ten (10) years. Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related lung diseases have accounted for over 20% of work-related fatalities identified by the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) since 2009. With a latency period of 25-30 years for onset of asbestos lung cancer, it is anticipated that this trend will continue for a number of years to come.
Saskatchewan pioneered the online Saskatchewan Asbestos Registry in 2015 for owners of commercial buildings to provide information on asbestos contained within their buildings in an attempt to prevent exposure to asbestos-containing materials within all commercial properties. The database includes the location of the property along with the types and locations of asbestos-containing materials contained within.
The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, 1996 – Part XXIII Asbestos outlines requirements for handling asbestos-containing materials. WorkSafe Saskatchewan also has a number of documents pertaining to asbestos abatement, asbestos testing and safe handling to prevent asbestos exposure.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral composed of pliable fibers that are resistant to heat, electricity and corrosion. It was commercially used as a binding agent in many products including asbestos ceiling tiles, asbestos floor tile, asbestos sheet flooring, asbestos drywall mud, textured ceiling products, plaster, mortar, cement and mastics.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) recognizes six (6) forms of asbestos that fall into two (2) categories: Amphibole and Serpentine.
Amphibole asbestos fibres are straight needle-like fibres. Due their aerodynamic properties, once disturbed, these fibres can remain suspended in air for very long periods of time. There are five (5) recognized types of amphibole asbestos:
· Amosite (brown asbestos – most common in ceiling tiles and mechanical insulation)
· Crocidolite (blue asbestos – most dangerous form – most common in cement products)
· Actinolite (not commercially used – common contaminant in vermiculite and talc)
· Tremolite (not commercially used – common contaminant in vermiculite and talc)
· Anthophyllite (limited commercial use - common contaminant in vermiculite and talc)
Serpentine asbestos fibres are curly fibres. Serpentine asbestos accounts for over 95% of the commercially developed asbestos-containing products. There is only one (1) recognized type of serpentine asbestos, Chrysotile (white asbestos). Chrysotile asbestos is common in many commercial building products including mechanical insulation, vinyl floor coverings, drywall mud, textured ceiling products, plaster, mortar, and mastics.
Vermiculite and talc have also been identified as potentially containing asbestos. These products were not manufactured as asbestos-containing materials but rather naturally contained very small percentages of asbestos when originally mined. Vermiculite is a common loose fill insulation used in attics and cinderblock walls. Talc is most common in baby powder and cosmetics.
Exposure to Asbestos
When asbestos is disturbed, the tiny fibres (microscopic) become airborne. Once in the airstream, the asbestos fibres remain suspended in the air for extended periods of time. The fibres are inhaled into the lungs and can cause various diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. The latency period for onset of such diseases is typically 25-30 years. In most cases, asbestos-related lung disease is due to chronic, or long term, exposure but there are documented cases of acute (short term) exposure as well.
Our qualified team is capable of collecting and analyzing air samples for airborne fibre concentration analysis. Air samples are collected as per the NIOSH 7400 standard analytical method. Air samples are analyzed via phase contrast microscopy. Samples can be collected:
· To determine ambient airborne fibre levels
· To determine levels following an inadvertent disturbance of asbestos-containing materials
· In conjunction with a scheduled asbestos abatement process
· Final clearance sampling following a scheduled asbestos abatement process prior to re-occupancy
Where can I find Asbestos in my home?
Asbestos products were widely used in commercial and residential buildings until the late 1980’s / early 1990’s. Although banned in the late 1970’s, contractors continued to use asbestos-containing products well beyond the banning of the material. Today, asbestos can still be found in many products found around your home or office. The following is a list of asbestos materials that may be present within your home or office:
· Vermiculite attic insulation
· Asbestos insulation (boiler, piping, hot water tanks)
· Asbestos floor tile
· Asbestos sheet flooring / asbestos sheet vinyl flooring
· Asbestos drywall
· Asbestos popcorn ceiling / asbestos stipple ceiling
· Asbestos ceiling tiles
· Asbestos mastic (adhering floor tiles, sheet flooring, carpet)
Although this is not a complete list of products, these are some of the most common products identified in home or office.
Our team is capable of providing asbestos testing services to determine if a product contains asbestos. Bulk samples are analyzed as per the EPA/600/R-93/116 method using Polarized Light Microscopy.
What should I do with the asbestos in my home?
If maintained in good condition and left undisturbed, asbestos-containing materials pose little risk to your health. There are a three (3) strategies when dealing with asbestos, they are:
1. Removal of the material – physical removal of the material thus removing the potential for future concerns. This is typically the most expensive upfront option but eliminates the potential for future costs.
2. Encapsulation of the material – Applying surface coating to the material to strengthen the surface in an attempt to prevent inadvertent disturbance of the asbestos. This option is less expensive than removal but requires regular maintenance and monitoring and still may require removal in the future.
3. Enclosure of the material – Construction of a physical barrier eliminating the potential for disturbance. Again, this option is less expensive than removal but also requires regular maintenance and monitoring and still may require removal in the future.
If you are planning a renovation project that may require disturbing a suspect material, we always recommend erring on the side of caution and having the material tested for asbestos content. Our asbestos testing kits will provide peace of mind that asbestos exposure won’t be a concern for you or your loved ones.