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We all know a little bit about asbestos and most know that it poses a danger to our health.  When discussing asbestos removal with a client I strive to help them understand why there are strict regulation that govern it and if not removed properly, how it can cause issues. Let’s get one thing straight, asbestos was a useful product until the discovery of the adverse long term health effect. Having it in your home is not a dangerous situation unless its disturbed and the asbestos fibers are released in the surrounding environment.

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals that are composed of microscopic fibers. These fibers are known for their exceptional strength, heat resistance, and insulating properties, which made asbestos a highly sought-after material in various industries. Asbestos has been used extensively in construction materials, automotive parts, textiles, and other products.

However, it has become increasingly evident that exposure to asbestos poses significant risks to human health. Inhalation of asbestos fibers is particularly hazardous, as these fibers can become lodged in the lungs and other respiratory organs. Over time, chronic exposure to asbestos can lead to the development of serious diseases, including asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer.

Asbestosis is a progressive and irreversible lung disease characterized by the scarring of lung tissue. The inhalation of asbestos fibers triggers an inflammatory response in the lungs, leading to the formation of scar tissue that hinders proper lung function. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pain. The disease typically develops after prolonged exposure to high levels of asbestos fibers.

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that primarily affects the lining of the lungs, although it can also occur in the lining of the abdomen or other organs. The primary cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos fibers, with the disease often manifesting several decades after the initial exposure. Symptoms of mesothelioma include chest pain, difficulty breathing, weight loss, and fatigue. Unfortunately, mesothelioma has a poor prognosis, and treatment options are limited.

In addition to mesothelioma, exposure to asbestos is a significant risk factor for the development of lung cancer. The carcinogenic properties of asbestos fibers can lead to the formation of tumors in the lungs. Smokers who are also exposed to asbestos have a significantly higher risk of developing lung cancer than non-smokers.

It is important to note that the health risks associated with asbestos exposure are not limited to occupational settings. Non-occupational exposure can occur through the release of asbestos fibers in the environment, such as during the renovation or demolition of buildings with asbestos-containing materials.

To mitigate the dangers of asbestos, various regulations and control strategies have been implemented worldwide. Many countries have imposed bans or restrictions on the use of asbestos, while others have implemented stringent safety measures for handling and removal of asbestos-containing materials. Occupational safety guidelines and air monitoring aim to protect workers and the public where asbestos exposure may occur.

Public awareness and education regarding the dangers of asbestos are crucial in preventing further exposure. Proper training of workers, effective risks assessments, and dissemination of information to the public can help minimize asbestos-related health hazards. Ongoing research is essential for better understanding the mechanisms of asbestos-related diseases, improving diagnostic methods, and developing more effective treatment options.

When property owners discover that they have asbestos in their homes and reach out to asbestos contractor it can be confusing. Simple jobs are made much more complex due to regulatory confines.  Below are a series of question that I often receive when speaking with clients:

How do I know if I have asbestos in my house?

Asbestos was added to many building materials due to its fire resistance, high tensile strength, poor heat and electrical conductivity, and being nearly impervious to chemical attacks, asbestos has proven to be well-suited for many uses in the construction industry. Asbestos gained wide-spread use because it is plentiful, readily available, and low in cost. To find out if building materials contain asbestos a qualified person must attend the site, take appropriate size and quantity of the building materials, and submit to a certified lab for analysis.  Once the results are available, the qualified person will develop a report outlining their findings.

Can I remove the asbestos containing materials myself?

Knowledge, training, and experience in the management of asbestos is highly recommended when disturbing any asbestos containing materials.  The number one cause of asbestos exposure is through unsafe practices during demolition and renovation. There is no known safe level of asbestos exposure, but asbestos cancers are dose dependant, meaning that those exposed for longer periods of time and to greater amounts of asbestos are more likely to develop asbestos related disease.  To safely remove asbestos containing product, a higher level of personal protective equipment is required, more importantly an air purified respirator with the appropriate filters.

Why should I hire a qualified asbestos contractor?

Qualified asbestos contractor will have developed procedures for removing asbestos that have proven to be safe with the assistance of an Environmental Consultants and air monitoring results. The front-line employees removing the asbestos material will also be training and have experience in the industry.

What can I expect form the contractor?

The asbestos contractor you choose should have extensive knowledge in the management and removal of asbestos containing materials.  Most qualified contractor have been in the industry for several year and will have the developed and proven procedure to demonstrate their work practice are safe. Since asbestos is a highly regulated material, a qualified asbestos contractor will have a robust Health and Safety program to navigate all the risks associated with asbestos removal.

Asbestos removal refers to the process of safely and effectively eliminating asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) from buildings, structures, or other areas where asbestos is present. Asbestos removal is a highly specialized and regulated procedure that requires trained professionals to minimize the release of asbestos fibers and ensure the safety of workers and occupants.

The following are key steps involved in the asbestos removal process:

Hazardous Materials Survey: Before any removal work begins, a thorough asbestos assessment and survey is conducted to identify the presence, type, and condition of asbestos-containing materials. This assessment helps determine the scope of the removal project and the appropriate safety measures to be taken.

Risk Assessment & Safe Work Procedures: Based on the hazardous materials survey results, a risk assessment and safe work procedures are developed. This plan includes strategies for containment, work procedures, personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements and waste disposal methods.

Filing Documentation: In British Columbia an asbestos contractor must file a notice of project with WorkSafeBC 48 hours before any work can commence via online submission.  The notice of project includes the location of job site, duration of abatement, number of employees on the job site, who is in charge on the job site, asbestos risk assessment, safe work procedures and the hazardous materials survey.

Preparation and Isolation: The work area is carefully prepared and isolated to prevent the spread of asbestos fibers to other parts of the building. This may involve sealing off doors, windows, and ventilation systems, as well as using polyethylene sheeting and negative air pressure units to create a contained work area.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Workers involved in asbestos removal must wear appropriate PPE to protect themselves from exposure. This may include disposable coveralls, respirators with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, gloves, and shoe covers. PPE should be properly fitted, regularly inspected, and used in accordance with established guidelines.

Wetting and Minimization of Fiber Release: Before any removal work begins, the ACMs are adequately wetted using a low-pressure sprayer to minimize the release of asbestos fibers. This wetting process helps prevent the fibers from becoming airborne and makes them easier to handle during removal.

Controlled Removal: Asbestos-containing materials are carefully removed using techniques that minimize the generation of dust and fibers. This may involve using hand tools, wet removal methods, or specialized equipment designed for asbestos abatement. Workers should exercise caution to avoid damaging the ACMs during removal.

Proper Handling and Packaging: Removed asbestos materials are double bagged in leak-tight, labeled, and puncture-resistant bags or containers to prevent fiber release. These containers are specifically designed for the safe transportation and disposal of asbestos waste.

Decontamination: After completing the removal work, workers go through a decontamination process to ensure they do not carry asbestos fibers out of the work area. Decontamination typically involves a series of steps such as removing and properly disposing of PPE, and thoroughly decontaminating exposed skin.

Clearance Testing: Following the removal process, a thorough visual inspection and air sampling is conducted to verify that the area is within acceptable limits for re-occupancy. This clearance testing is performed by an independent third-party environmental consultant to ensure compliance with safety standards and regulations.

Proper Disposal: Asbestos waste is disposed of according to local regulations and guidelines. It is typically transported to specialized disposal facilities that can safely handle and contain asbestos materials.

It is important to note that asbestos removal should only be carried out by licensed and trained professionals who have the necessary expertise, equipment, and knowledge to perform the task safely and effectively. Following established regulations and guidelines is crucial to protect the health and well-being of workers, occupants, and the environment.

The health concerns around asbestos are very real and as a society we are still exposing people to these dangers for no reason.  The reputable asbestos contractors will have no problems explain how these materials will be removal and breakdown the cost associated. When taking on an asbestos project as a homeowner ensure you reach out to more then one contactor and do your homework on what safe work procedures should be used while the materials are being removed.

In conclusion, asbestos poses significant dangers to human health, with exposure to asbestos fibers linked to serious respiratory diseases, including asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. Understanding the risks associated with asbestos is vital for implementing appropriate preventive measures, promoting occupational safety, and protecting public health.

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