Asbestos / Vermiculite

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals whose characteristics lend themselves well to many industrial and residential purposes. Resistant to high temperatures, chemical exposure and wear, asbestos has been widely used in the construction industry. It’s long, flexible, fibrous nature enables the mineral to be spun into yarn and woven into fabric or braided into rope.

Where can asbestos be found in the home?

Because it is a valuable reinforcing, insulating and fire-proofing material, asbestos was used widely in construction materials such as:

  •  Attic and wall insulation containing vermiculite (see: What is Vermiculite).
  • Ceiling tiles.
  • Vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives.
  • Roofing and siding shingles.
  • Textured paint and patching compounds used on wall and ceilings.
  • Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets.
  • Hot water and steam pipes coated with asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape.

According to the US EPA, the houses most at risk for having asbestos containing materials used in their construction were built between 1930 and 1950 however; materials such as textured paints and wall and ceiling patching materials continued to be manufactured with asbestos until the late 1970s, even as late as the mid 80s in Canada.

What is Vermiculite and why is it a risk?

Vermiculite is a mica-like mineral mined around the world and used in a variety of commercial and consumer products because it is fire-resistant and has good insulation qualities. Of concern is vermiculite ore produced by the Libby Mine in Montana from the 1920's to 1990. It was sold as Zonolite® Attic Insulation and possibly other brands in Canada during that time. Vermiculite from the Libby Mine often contains amphibole asbestos. Products made from vermiculite ore produced by the Libby Mine were not widely used after the mid-1980's and have not been on the market in Canada since 1990. While not all vermiculite insulation contains amphibole asbestos fibres, it is reasonable to assume that older vermiculite-based insulation may contain these fibres.

Analysis of this type of insulation is recommended prior to disruption of this material for any reason.

How can people become exposed to asbestos?

Asbestos fibers may be released into the air by the disturbance of asbestos-containing material during product use, demolition work, building or home maintenance, repair, and remodeling. In general, exposure may occur only when the asbestos-containing material is disturbed or damaged in some way to release particles and fibers into the air.

 

What are the health risks of asbestos exposure?

Asbestos poses health risks only when fibres are present in the air that people breathe. How exposure to asbestos can affect you depends on many factors including the concentration of asbestos fibres in the air, how long the exposure lasted, how often you were exposed, the size of the asbestos fibres inhaled and the amount of time since the initial exposure. When inhaled in significant quantities, asbestos fibres can cause asbestosis (a scarring of the lungs which makes breathing difficult), mesothelioma (a rare cancer of the lining of the chest or abdominal cavity) and lung cancer. The link between exposure to asbestos and other types of cancers is less clear. Smoking, combined with inhaled asbestos, greatly increases the risk of lung cancer.

Analysis for Asbestos at Paracel

Paracel Laboratories Ltd. provides two separate analyses for asbestos, polarized light microscopy (PLM) for bulk materials and phase contrast microscopy (PCM) for airborne fibres.  Paracel is a fully accredited facility for asbestos analysis by both PLM and PCM techniques

Collecting samples of bulk material (not including vermiculite) for analysis

Paracel does not recommend homeowners sample suspected asbestos containing material themselves. It is recommended that a trained asbestos professional be contacted to collect the samples. If the homeowner chooses to collect the samples themselves at a minimum the following procedures should be followed:

  • Wear disposable gloves and an N100, P100 or R100 respirator. Half mask type respirator are available from safety supply stores.
  • Shut down any heating, ventilating air conditioning systems in the area to prevent the spread of any released fibres.
  • Do not disturb any more material than is necessary to collect the sample. Take every precaution to prevent release of fibres.
  • Place a plastic sheet on the floor below the area being sampled.
  • Wet the material with a fine mist of water before taking the sample. (Spray bottle)
  • Carefully cut a small piece of the material, ensuring that the entire thickness is collected, with a sharp knife. A piece with a minimum size of a toonie is sufficient for submission.
  • Place the material in a small labelled zip lock bag and seal.
  • Using a damp paper towel, wipe the outside of the zip lock bag and the area around where it was sampled.
  • Seal the area where the sample was collected with a suitable material to prevent fibre release.
  • Dispose of the plastic sheet, paper towels and gloves in a sealed plastic bag.
  • Prior to submitting the samples to the lab, wipe the zip lock bag with a damp paper towel and label it with sufficient identifying information to know where it came from, then place it inside a second zip lock bag. All samples submitted to the lab must be double bagged.

Collecting samples of vermiculite for analysis

Paracel does not recommend homeowners sample suspected asbestos containing material themselves. It is recommended that a trained asbestos professional be contacted to collect the samples. If the homeowner chooses to collect the samples themselves at a minimum the following procedures should be followed:

  •  Wear disposable gloves and an N100, P100 or R100 respirator. Half mask type respirator available from safety supply stores.
  • Shut down any heating, ventilating air conditioning systems in the area to prevent the spread of any released fibres.
  • Do not disturb any more material than is necessary to collect the sample. Take every precaution to prevent release of fibres. Do not remain in the area any longer than required to collect the samples
  • Collect 3 separate samples from the area containing vermiculite.
  • Collect a full zip lock bag (large size) for each sample, collecting material from the bottom half of the insulation or from the bottom of a wall cavity as asbestos tends to settle.
  • Using a damp paper towel, wipe the outside of the zip lock bag.
  • Wipe the item used to transfer the sample to the bag with a damp paper towel to prevent contaminating the next sample.
  • Prior to submitting the samples to the lab, wipe the zip lock bag with a damp paper towel and label it with sufficient identifying information to know where it came from, then place it inside a second zip lock bag. All samples submitted to the lab must be double bagged.

Submitting samples to the laboratory

Ensure that all samples are labelled, securely sealed in a zip lock type bag and double bagged prior to submission to the laboratory. Asbestos is currently analyzed at our Ottawa West and Mississauga laboratories however samples may be dropped off at any of our offices. Refer to our Contact page for your nearest lab or depot.

What do I do if Asbestos is found in my samples?   

If the material is enclosed, in good condition and in a location where there is no risk of releasing fibres into the air, it may be best to leave the material alone. If there are any concerns or renovations in the affected area are being considered, contact a professional asbestos abatement/removal service for an evaluation and prior to starting any renovation work.  For more information on asbestos in the home please refer to the Health Canada link provided below.

CCOHS – asbestos -http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/asbestos/home.html

 

Additional information

Please refer to the Web Links below for further information.  Alternatively, inquiries can be submitted by completing the Information Request Form located on this web page. Our Service Team is available to answer any questions that you may have regarding your analytical requirements.

 

Government of Canada – Health risks of asbestos:

http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/environment-environnement/outdoor-air-exterieur/asbestos-amiante-eng.php

Health Canada – It’s your health, Vermiculite Insulation:

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/alt_formats/pacrb-dgapcr/pdf/iyh-vsv/prod/insulation-isolant-eng.pdf                                                     

Health Canada- It’s your health, asbestos:

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/alt_formats/hecs-sesc/pdf/pubs/water-eau/asbestos-amiante/asbestos-amiante-eng.pdf

CCOHS

Asbestos:   http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/asbestos/home.html        

Vermiculite:   http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/vermiculite.html

Work Safe BC:

http://www2.worksafebc.com/Publications/Multimedia/Videos.asp?ReportID=35328  

Renovating older homes:

http://www.worksafebc.com/publications/health_and_safety/by_topic/assets/pdf/asbestos_hazards_homeowners.pdf

US EPA – Asbestos:

http://www2.epa.gov/asbestos