For decades, Canada had a long-standing love affair with asbestos, but that all changed in 2011. In the blink of an eye, the country’s asbestos mining industry came to a screeching halt following the closure of its last two mines, both based in Quebec.
Today, the country is pushing for a full use ban of the toxic mineral and is making strides toward an asbestos-free future. However, despite a renewed push to protect Canadians from coming into contact with asbestos, the real danger is often found much closer to home.
Asbestos was, at one time, added to thousands of homebuilding products, ranging from gaskets and rope used to insulate furnaces to vinyl floor tiles and popcorn ceilings adorning homes across North America. Known for being especially strong and capable of resisting heat and most chemical reactions, the mineral also found its way into consumer products. From the crock pot in your kitchen to the ironing board in your closet, if it came into contact with high temperatures, it likely included asbestos.
Millions of tons of the mineral were mined and sold over the years, though both its use and production in Canada began to wane in the 1970s.
Utility at a high cost
Unfortunately, reaping the mineral’s benefits also comes at a huge price. It’s very likely that hundreds of thousands of houses and public buildings still contain the mineral, especially if they were last renovated before 1990. Asbestos is a known carcinogen closely tied to several debilitating, chronic and fatal diseases, including asbestos-related lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a highly aggressive cancer impacting the linings of the internal organs, most commonly the lungs, but can affect the heart or abdomen in rare instances.
If you suspect that you may come into contact with the mineral on the job site, it’s best to take the right precautions to prevent exposure. Be careful with items and materials likely to contain the mineral and wear the right personal protective equipment (PPE) to get the job done safely, including disposable suits, gloves and a half-face respirator mask. In addition, be careful around crumbling building materials known to contain asbestos, and remove them with as little disruption as possible. Make sure disposal bags are strong, airtight and well-marked to avoid confusion and accidental exposure.
It’s incredibly important to remember when working with and disposing of asbestos-containing materials that there are rules and regulations in place you have to follow to prevent accidental exposure from occurring. According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, work areas must not allow eating, smoking or drinking to occur on the site, compressed air cannot be used to remove dust or clean tools or areas, and wetting agents must be used with water to prevent asbestos fibers from becoming airborne.
During the disposal process, asbestos must be cleaned up at regular intervals and immediately following the end of work. All containers leaving the worksite for disposal have to be airtight, clearly marked as asbestos containers and cleaned up with a HEPA-filter vacuum or wet cloth to remove any extra traces of asbestos from the container. In addition, asbestos waste that leaves the worksite must be handled and hauled by a licensed waste hauler and the landfill must be alerted prior to the waste actually being dropped off.
Landfill operators have their own rules and regulations that are strictly enforced. For example, landfill operators have to make sure new asbestos disposals are covered with compacted fill within the same day. They must also clearly mark disposal areas at the site and ensure proper signs are posted. Asbestos fill sites are not to be disturbed once covered, as excavating the area where asbestos is contained could allow the fibers to become airborne and put employees or the general public at risk of inhalation.
It may seem like a lot of trouble to go through just to prevent asbestos from entering the air, but these rules are in place to protect people. If you suspect that someone isn’t doing due diligence or the worksite is unsafe, speak with a supervisor or contact Employment and Social Development Canada to file a report.
The reason these regulations are in place is to prevent workers and the general public from accidentally ingesting or inhaling the fibers. When asbestos enters the body, it becomes trapped deep in the lung tissue and eventually becomes lodged in the mesothelium, or lining, of the internal organs. In 2013 alone, almost 600 Canadians were diagnosed with mesothelioma and nearly 500 died from it.
Asbestos may soon become a thing of the past, but the sad truth is that it’s a lot closer to us than we think. It may not be mined or produced anymore, but decades of poor decisions are still capable of causing a wide range of problems today. By taking the correct actions to prevent asbestos from affecting others and following the established rules, we can reduce the number of asbestos-related diseases diagnosed nationwide.