What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a natural rock made of fibres that have insulating properties and its use in products like cement and plastic, increases their strength. There are several kinds of asbestos but the ones that are most used in Quebec are chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite. All kinds of asbestos fiber are known to have a carcinogenic effect in humans when inhaled. That’s why it’s essential that you investigate before demolishing, renovating or handling materials that may contain asbestos, especially when those materials are brittle.

Why is it important to check if materials contain asbestos?

Quebec regulations have prohibited the use of products containing asbestos fiber since February 15, 1990, so when buying or renovating a building built before then, it’s important to find out if it has asbestos-containing materials. Why? Mainly because the handling of asbestos-containing materials can lead to serious health problems and legislation obliges all employers to ensure that exposure be minimized. It also identifies acceptable exposure limits, safe protocols, and a legal framework for its safe disposal and burial.

When are you likely to be exposed to asbestos fibres?

Exposure to asbestos fibres depends on the brittleness of materials you’re handling as well as the type of work you’re doing. The more brittle the materials are, the more easily the fibers can come off and the more dust containing asbestos can be spread in the air. That’s why it’s essential to deal with professionals before undertaking any kind of work that might involve asbestos-containing materials. Using the wrong tools, wearing inadequate protection and using improper work methods could cause many problems for a building’s occupants.

What materials may contain asbestos?

There’s a wide range of materials that may contain asbestos, but we’re focusing on the ones that are most frequently found in residential, commercial, institutional and industrial buildings.

Asbestos is most often found in materials designed and used before 1990 like:

  • Flocking (applied by spraying);Insulation;
  • Plaster walls and ceilings;
  • Stucco;
  • Cement coating;
  • Attic insulation (vermiculite, zonolite, fibreglass wool)
  • Ceiling tiles;
  • Corrugated cardboard (ventilation systems);
  • Vinyl tiles;
  • Glues and adhesives;

If you have any doubts, and before starting work that involves any of the materials listed above, have a material characterization done to confirm or deny the presence of asbestos. Note that only a laboratory analysis can confirm or deny the presence of asbestos.