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How to Test for Asbestos

How to Test for Asbestos

Although it originally had merits as a durable, flame-retardant material, asbestos began to be suspected of being a serious health hazard beginning in the early twentieth century.

Historically, asbestos import, sale and use, as well as manufacturing importing, has been previously banned with some exceptions. The banning of asbestos in Canada was first implemented in the mid to late 1970s. The sale and use of asbestos in Canada was previously regulated by the Federal Government (Hazardous Products ACT).

This eventually gave rise to a widespread movement to limit the production and use of asbestos, ultimately resulting in Canada’s banning of asbestos-containing materials in 2018.

Homeowners, building owners, and building maintenance operators who are planning a renovation or demolition within the property built prior to 1990 should have asbestos testing done on their property to make sure it does not contain this dangerous material.

If you are unsure whether or not your home or property contains asbestos, this guide will explain what to watch out for and how to test for asbestos to be sure that your home or business is free of this dangerous material.

Testing for building materials suspected of containing asbestos can be considered low risk. Clean hand tools such as hook knives, hammers, screwdrivers, and exacto knives are some of the tools required to collect samples. Spray bottles containing amended water are used to wet the materials before sampling. Building materials suspected of containing asbestos are collected and are then placed into ziploc bags or containers, sealed, and labeled with the date, and location. A chain of custody detailing the sampling information is filled out and attached to the samples. All sampling materials along with a chain of custody are shipped to an accredited laboratory for analysis.  

What is Asbestos?

asbestos filaments and fibers

The term “asbestos” refers to a group of naturally occurring silicate materials that are composed of thin fibrous crystals. Asbestos fibers are great electrical insulators and highly-resistant to heat, which is why they became such a popular ingredient in the construction materials. At the height of its use, asbestos was found in thousands of products in a wide range of applications.

Health Risks

Not very long after the large-scale asbestos industry began in the nineteenth century, people started to raise concerns about its potential health risks. The first documented death related to asbestos exposure dates back to the early 1900s, which quickly led to a proliferation of studies and anecdotal evidence that confirmed the health and safety threat posed by asbestos.

In 1987, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared that asbestos was a human carcinogen. Asbestos exposure has been linked to lung cancer, ovarian cancer and cancer of the larynx, and it has been shown to cause long-term inflammation and scarring of the lungs that cannot be cured, known as asbestosis, among other health problems.

Currently, asbestos related deaths is the leading cause of death in the workplace in Canada. It is estimated that approximately 2,000 people die every year in Canada from diseases caused by asbestos exposure.

At this point, the consensus is clear. Any amount of asbestos exposure constitutes a health hazard, it is not a question of degree or volume.

Identifying Asbestos in Building Materials

asbestos dust hazard warning tape

Following the introduction of asbestos regulations in most jurisdictions around the world, its popularity as a component of building material fell off, but it can still be found in many older homes throughout Canada. The following elements are the most common sources of asbestos:

  • Drywall Joint Compound (Walls and Ceilings) – Asbestos fibres were added to drywall mud. As the mud was applied to the joints and seems, asbestos fibres within the mud was also spread with the mud.
  • Plaster (Walls and Ceilings) Plaster walls and ceilings used in older homes may contain asbestos.
  • Vermiculite Insulation – This product was often used as a loose insulation for attics within cinder block walls. Not all vermiculite sold in Canada contains asbestos fibres, however, if you believe that your home may contain vermiculite insulation, asbestos contamination is a reasonable assumption.
  • Vinyl Floor Tiles – Old vinyl floor tiles, as well as the adhesive mastic used to secure them to the floor, are likely to contain asbestos.
  • Vinyl Sheet Flooring – Vinyl sheet flooring along with paper backing are likely to contain asbestos.
  • Ceiling Tiles – Asbestos was typically used in sound-dampening ceiling tiles of a certain age.
  • Pipe Wraps – Pipe and duct wraps often contained asbestos because it is such an effective insulator.
  • Duct and Boiler Insulation – Boilers, vessels, pipes and duct insulation are known to have asbestos. Asbestos is a good heat resistant material that was frequently used in insulation.
  • Popcorn Ceilings and Texture – Also referred to as stippled ceilings, this textured finishing element was once very popular in residential and commercial construction. These ceilings could be made in a variety of ways, so not all of them are dangerous, but many were made using lead-based products and asbestos-contaminated vermiculite insulation.
  • Transite Pipes and Panels – Transite is a cement product that was used on pipes and boards.
  • Stucco and Cement Parging – Asbestos was used in exterior and interior stucco, and at the base cement parging area.

Because asbestos use was only phased out during the 1980s, it is recommended that anything built prior to the 1990s, could potentially contain asbestos, and should be tested. In general, the likelihood of the presence of asbestos increases with the age of the material.

Asbestos Testing

microscope examining slide

If asbestos is present in a certain building material, it poses little risk unless it is disturbed, at which point it can become airborne and extremely dangerous. An asbestos inspection in the areas being renovated or demolished should be carried out prior to any demolition or renovation project on buildings built before the 1990s.

Asbestos Testing DIY

Some people opt to carry out asbestos inspections on their own, but they do so with certain risks. Unless they have pertinent experience, they risk inadvertently disturbing asbestos containing materials and releasing asbestos fibres into the air, which may potentially result in exposure to asbestos fibres.

Also, a DIY asbestos test requires sending a sample of the material to an independent laboratory for verification, which incurs lab fees and shipping costs. A safer and more effective way to test for asbestos is to use professional asbestos testing services.

Asbestos Testing Services

Going with a company that specializes in asbestos abatement is your best option if you suspect the presence of asbestos. Proper asbestos testing and removal strategies require significant training and the right safety equipment, which is why it is the kind of job that is best left to professionals from asbestos companies like Certified Asbestos.

Consult Asbestos Removal Specialists

caution asbestos painted sign

Although it is possible to carry out your own tests for asbestos in your home, the safety hazards should not be taken lightly. To make sure your tests are accurate and to avoid the hazards involved with asbestos removal, find asbestos testing and removal specialists. Their expertise will let you find peace of mind!

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