Tackling asbestos. Mesothelioma Awareness Day, September 26
Asbestos. That’s one of the last things you’d want to hear that’s lurking in your home. And yet, if your house or condo was built before the early 1990s, there’s a very good chance it’s somewhere behind your walls or even in full view.
That’s because asbestos, durable and resilient as it is, was the material of choice for insulation, waste piping, roof shingles, tiles and other products between the 1940s and 1980s, particularly in Canada where asbestos mining was once the largest in the world.
We now know that asbestos is highly carcinogenic when its fibers are released into the air. As homes age and deteriorate and the encasing of the asbestos wears down, this exposure is a very real and dangerous possibility. Of notable concern is a paper-like wrap for boiler pipes and ductwork. This can become friable or easy to disintegrate and disperse through forced air systems.
Once inhaled, asbestos fibers often cause debilitating conditions such as pleural disease and numerous cancers, particularly mesothelioma. According to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, mesothelioma “is a rare, aggressive form of cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart…. Mesothelioma has no known cure and has a very poor prognosis.”
The disease has a long latency period of 20 to 40 years so you may not know that you have it until it’s too late to do anything about it. If you suspect that you’ve been exposed to asbestos, talk to your doctor. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the probability of survival.
This brings us to Mesothelioma Awareness Day, September 26, a world-wide event. As buildings start to age and people are living longer than ever before, the rates of mesothelioma deaths and diagnosis are on the rise.
According to the Globe and Mail: “Between 2000 and 2011, more than 4,000 people died of mesothelioma, Statistics Canada data show. The number of new cases has almost doubled, to about 500 people per year, since 1992.”
Once asbestos industry workers and their families were the most typical victims of mesothelioma. Today, renovation workers are more exposed to asbestos than employees of any other industry. The reason? They are not taking the precautions required to safely remove this dangerous material. And this impacts white-collar workers and homeowners too.
So, what can you do to safeguard your safety and that of your family? If you work in an aging building, you may want to bring this to the attention of your employer, especially if they are planning a renovation. If you rent your home, talk to the owner.
If you are a homeowner and your house was built prior to the early 1990s, your real estate agent and general contractor may identify areas of concern. If you are planning a home renovation, you will need to bring in experts to assess your home and, if it has asbestos and other dangerous materials, to hire a remediator to have them professionally removed.
Many people are unaware that the Ontario Ministry of Labour, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, stipulates that prior to a renovation, building owners must employ an expert to conduct a Designated Substance Survey (DSS). The Ministry has identified 11 substances, which include asbestos, mercury and lead.
A DSS involves sampling and air testing, and costs between $1200 and $1500 for a typical house, but for larger homes this can vary. Based on the results of the samples when tested at the lab, it will dictate the level of possible remediation needed at your home prior to any renovation work. As well, the volume of asbestos present in the house dictates the ‘type’ of remediation needed, and the number of air tests which is commensurate with the type of remediation required. Type One remediation refers to low toxicity, whereas Type Three is high. Remediation is conducted by an expert third party prior and/or during the renovation.
In honour of Mesothelioma Awareness Day (September 26), we interviewed Emily Walsh, Director of Community Outreach at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance on what you need to know about asbestos and this disease. Her interview can be found here – greeninghomes.com/what-to-do-about-asbestos-interview-with-the-mesothelioma-cancer-alliance
The Globe and Mail also covered this issue a few years ago – No safe use.
Also of interest, this Globe and Mail op-ed: Asbestos exposure: We’re just at the beginning of a health crisis, by Stephen Bornstein, professor and director for the Centre of Applied Health Research at Memorial University.