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What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name of a group of minerals that are shaped like long, thin fibres that were used to make products strong, long-lasting and fire-resistant. Before the 1990s, it was commonly used to insulate against cold, weather and noise, and in making car brakes, fabrics, ceiling tiles, and many other materials. Since, people have mostly stopped using asbestos and the Government of Canada regulates the sale of high-risk consumer products that may contain it.

How can I be exposed to asbestos?

Exposure of asbestos occurs when asbestos fibres get loose in the air. Exposure usually occurs due to the type of work you do, as it is found in many types of construction materials. Those that work with these materials often include plumbers, construction workers, mechanics, and electricians. You can be exposed to asbestos when your home or building is being renovated or demolished as fibres can be released into the air. Some car parts still contain asbestos as well, so it is possible to be exposed to asbestos dust when changing your brakes or replacing a transmission clutch.

What are the symptoms of asbestos exposure?

Most people do not have any symptoms for up to 15 to 30 years after being exposed to asbestos. Symptoms can include trouble breathing, chest pain, a cough and coughing up blood.

What are the health risks of being exposed to asbestos?

When asbestos fibres get loose in the air, you can breathe them into your lungs where they get trapped. It usually takes high levels or long periods of time for asbestos to cause any health problems. Many people that are exposed to asbestos never get sick from it.

Health problems that can arise:

Asbestosis: Scarring of the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

Cancer: Lung cancer or mesothelioma, a rare cancer that happens in the lining of the chest or abdominal cavity.

Pleural Problems: Fluid buildup in the pleura, the thin layer of tissue that surrounds the lungs.

How do I reduce my risk of exposure?

You can reduce your risk of exposure in the home, when doing car maintenance or while at work.

  • Home: Hire a professional to test for asbestos before doing any renovations or remodelling, demolitions, or additions. If asbestos is found, you can hire a qualified asbestos removal specialist to get rid of it before beginning work. Make sure to avoid disturbing asbestos materials yourself.
  • Car maintenance: Call the auto parts supplier to check if brake and transmission parts contain asbestos before doing any work yourself, or have your brakes and clutch serviced at a commercial automotive shop.
  • Work:  If you work in maintenance or construction, find out if asbestos is present in your work area. When handling materials that may contain asbestos, avoid creating dust from scraping, brushing, rubbing or cutting.