When I first started in the restoration business only a decade ago, nobody seemed concerned with asbestos. To be honest, I think nobody really knew about asbestos and the risks associated with exposure to asbestos.
I remember the first time I encountered vermiculite. It was in an old farm house that had an issue with ice damming. We had to pull down the ceiling to dry the structural supports. This really cool looking sand-like stuff started falling down. It looked like tiny rocks but had hardly any weight to it. We would never had known that we were exposed to asbestos except that the farmer had left the bag for the vermiculite in the attic with the insulation. It read, “Contains asbestos, extreme health hazard”.
After that incident, several of us decided that we wouldn’t do any more work until we were educated to the risks of asbestos. The things I didn’t realize blew my mind. There are over 2000 building products that use asbestos in them. Although the government knew the health hazards of asbestos, it wasn’t banned until 1985. This means that a huge portion of the population is living with asbestos containing materials in their home and probably don’t know it. While many of these products pose no risk to the inhabitants, as it only dangerous once it is disturbed, there are older homes all across Canada that are coming due for much needed renovations.
For all you do-it-yourselfers out there, let this be a warning: According to Stats Canada, asbestos exposure-related diseases are now the number one workplace killer in Canada. More than the next three causes combined. Asbestos has killed more than 5000 Canadians since 1995, and the numbers are still on the rise. Asbestos is a ghost killer. You can’t see it, or smell it. There aren’t any immediate signs of exposure. In fact, it usually takes 10-20 years for symptoms of asbestosis or mesothelioma to develop.
The lesson we all need to take away from this is, the health risks to you and your family aren’t worth the money that you save by not having professionals ensure your home is safe from such a dangerous product. I have two young girls at home, I wouldn’t think of exposing them to a known carcinogen that would shorten their lives dramatically. The key to lowering the number of asbestos deaths in Canada is awareness. And now you know.