Asbestos – Get the Facts!


Recently Health-Canada changed it’s public stance on Asbestos.  The government changed the website Health Canada website.
The site no longer says that chrysotile, one of the fibres used in asbestos, is less potent than others; nor does it say asbestos is dangerous when inhaled in “significant quantities.” It simply says: “Asbestos, if inhaled, can cause cancer and other diseases.”

The site goes on to say that the Government of Canada has put regulation in place to protect the public from the hazards of Asbestos.  To quote the site directly it says:

“How does the Government of Canada protect you from exposure?

The Government of Canada recognizes that breathing in asbestos fibres can cause cancer and other diseases. We help protect Canadians from asbestos exposure by regulating:

Let’s take a look to see if these pieces of legislation really protect us.

Asbestos Products Regulations (SOR/2007-260)

These regulations were last updated on 20 July, 2011 and are part of the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act.

So what the regulations say:

  1. The regulations apply to the importation, advertising and sale of asbestos products.
    • What this means is that any effort to import, advertise or sell asbestos products are covered by this piece of law.
  2. The regulations are broken down into two main sections, that which deals with non-crocidolite asbestos products and that which deals with crocidolite asbestos products.
  3. What the regulations don’t say is that ALL asbestos carries serious health risks.
    • Asbestos is broken down chemically such that they fall into two main groups which define their crystalline structure.  Amphibole and Serpentile.
      • Amphibole crystals are found in straight needle like formations
      • Serpentine are generally formed in curly crystal formations
      • Asbestos is asbestos regardless of the group it belongs in, and once inhaled and stuck in the lungs has the same potential risk.
    • Crocidolite asbestos which is also commonly referred to as “blue” asbestos, belongs to the amphibole family of asbestos types. As such, it is quite finely textured and looks very much like human hair. Its color ranges from a dull slate gray to a very vibrant dark blue. The fibers of crocidolite are fairly flexible, able to bend to about 90 degrees before breaking. Crocidolite occurs in naturally-formed bundles that are long, sharp, and straight.  This makes crocidolite especially easy to inhale and also makes it the most hazardous of all types of asbestos.
    • Crocidolite is only one type of Asbestos.  Others in the amphibole group are Actinolite, Amosite, Anthophyllite, Cummingtonite, Grunerite and Tremolite.  It is important to remember that these are all types of asbestos and while they may have different levels of “inhale-ability” (If I can makeup another word)  They are all capable of causing cancer and other lung diseases related to asbestos.
    • Many media reports confuse crocidolite (The nasty foreign stuff) with chrysotile (The nice white fluffy stuff Canada used to produce).   Chrysotile is a form of serpentine asbestos, which means it has curly fibers that are not as easy to inhale as the needle like fibers from the amphibole forms of asbestos, IT’S STILL ASBESTOS, THE FIBRES CAN STILL BE INHALED, THEY CAN STILL CAUSE CANCER!
  4. The regulations then go on to say that it is illegal to import, advertise or sell specific products that contain asbestos but DO NOT CONTAIN crocidolite asbestos.
    • The products listed are
      • a product for use in modelling or sculpture;
      • a product for use in simulating ashes or embers; and
      • a product that is composed entirely of asbestos
    • The regulations allow products that do not contain crocidolite but may contain other forms of asbestos to be imported advertised and sold as long as these fall within a group of products specified by the regulation and the products adhere to the requirements.
      • You can have clothing made with asbestos fibres that do not contain crocidolite asbestos as long as they are not completely asbestos on the condition that the clothing protects you from heat or fire hazards and used in a foreseeable manner will not expose you to airborne asbestos.
        If you do something unforeseeable (to whom it doesn’t say)and you are exposed to asbestos fibres, it appears the regulations don’t protect you.
      • You can have a toy, made with asbestos that does not contain crocidolite asbestos, that is used by a child in learning or play as long as asbestos cannot become separated from the product.
        This is actually one of the tightest parts of the regulation because it puts no limit on how asbestos might become separated so any form of damage, deliberate or otherwise that releases asbestos from a toy would leave the manufacturer, advertiser or sales person liable under the act.
      • You can use asbestos, as long as it’s not crocidolite asbestos, in drywall joint cement or compound, or spackling or patching compound as long as Asbestos cannot become separated from the product during its post-manufacture preparation, application or removal. This leaves a gaping hole for when renovations are performed and you drill, cut or otherwise damage the product.
        Incomplete protection there then.
      • You can use asbestos, as long as it’s not crocidolite asbestos, as long as the asbestos is encapsulated with a binder during spraying and when it dries it’s not friable.  (Airborne fibres)
        Again post spraying and drying damage due to renovations other than removal is apparently allowed.
  5. To make matters worse, the regulations appears to distinguish between the health risks of non-crocidolite asbestos and crocidolite asbestos by banning import, advertising or sale of crocidolite containing products except if they are in Asbestos cement pipes, torque converters (part of a vehicles automatic transmission), diaphragms for chloralkali production (creating Chlorine gas another well known health risk from Salt), acid and temperature resistant seas, gaskets, gland packing and flexible couplings (you know, like the rope that’s around the fire box of a wood burning stove) or (and I love this one) a product that is composed of or contains one or more of the asbestos products from the previous list.
  6. The regulations (that are protecting us all) allow anyone to import an asbestos product that is composed entirely of crocidolite asbestos (raw asbestos crystals for example) for the purpose of manufacturing a product specified in the regulations, as long as they make a declaration that they are going to do so, describe what they are importing, the date they are importing it, where it’s entering Canada and the address of where it’s going to be used to manufacture the product, and of course it has a visible label (these labels must be the size specified by these very protective regulations) that tells everyone if contains crocidolite asbestos.
  7. Of course, the manufacturer has to then abide by the rules laid down in the second piece of regulation which is 25 years old and made at a time when Canada was still mining Asbestos,  This relates solely to fibres released into the air during processing and manufacture but does not restrict manufacturers from actually manufacturing any of the products.

The bottom line

All types of asbestos, whether it’s the warm and fuzzy Canadian Asbestos or the nasty foreign stuff can give you cancer and other lung diseases.  Nothing can stop asbestos products from getting into your home but you.  Once in the home you are responsible for ensuring your own safety with respect to asbestos fibres.    If you think you may have asbestos containing material in the home, get them sampled and tested and have them responsibly removed.   As with all indoor air quality concerns, ensure the sampling and testing is done by someone who is not connected to the person or company that will do any abatement or remediation.   Get the air quality sampled and tested after any work to ensure proper precautions were taken to ensure your well being.  Again, ensure the sampling and testing is done by someone who is not connected to the person or company that did the abatement or remediation.

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