What You Need to Know About Asbestos in Your Home

What is asbestos and what does it look like?

Asbestos is the generic name for a number of mineral fibres found in rock formations. Because of its strength, durability and fire resistance, asbestos was used in the past in construction and other industries, and was added to a variety of products, including insulation and ceiling tiles.

Because asbestos was often mixed with other substances, it is very difficult to visually identify. The only way to know for certain if asbestos is present is to submit it for testing to a properly accredited asbestos laboratory. 

What are the risks surrounding asbestos?

Health studies indicate that breathing high levels of asbestos fibres can lead to an increased risk of certain types of lung cancers.  However, if asbestos fibres are properly enclosed within a product, there are no significant health risks. The potential danger occurs when asbestos fibres are disturbed, released into the air and then inhaled.

What are the likely sources of asbestos in my home and when should I be concerned?

Today, few products contain asbestos, and those that do are regulated and must be properly labelled. However, before the 1970s, many types of home building materials and products used in the home contained asbestos and may be at risk of releasing fibres in to the air. These include:

  • Asbestos cement roofing, roofing felt, shingles and siding. Deteriorating materials or removing these materials can release fibres into the air.
  • Vermiculite attic insulation. Please see our special section on ZAI (Zonolite Attic Insulation / Vermiculite
  • Vinyl asbestos, asphalt and rubber floor tiles, including the backing and adhesives used to install floor tile. Sanding or scraping tiles or their backing could release fibres into the air.
  • Acoustical ceiling tiles that contain asbestos. Breaking or improver removal could release fibres into the air.
  • Steam pipes, furnace ducts, hot water tanks and boilers insulated with an asbestos blanket or asbestos paper tape. Damaged or improper repair or removal could release fibres into the air.
  • Cement Sheet, millboard and paper used to insulate furnaces and wood burning stoves. Repairing or removing the stove, as well as cutting, sanding or drilling the insulation could release fibres into the air.
  • Soundproofing or decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings. Crumbling, loose or water damaged material could release fibres as well as sanding, drilling or scraping the material.
  • Patching and joint compounds for walls and ceilings. Sanding, scraping or drilling could release fibres into the air.
  • Textured paints. Sanding, scraping or drilling could cause fibres to release into the air.
  • Door gaskets in furnaces, wood and coal stoves. Worn seals could release asbestos fibres.
  • Artificial ashes and embers used in gas fireplaces.
  • Older ironing board covers, stovetop pads and fireproof gloves. Check with your provincial or local regulatory agency on how to properly discard these items.
  • Older models of some hairdryers. Check with your provincial or local regulatory agency on how to properly discard these items.
  • Vehicle brake pads, linings, clutch facings and gaskets. These should be replaced only by a professional using special protective equipment.

How do I identify asbestos in my home?

You can’t identify items that may contain asbestos simply by looking at them. The only way to confirm the presence of asbestos is to take a sample of the material and have it tested by an accredited asbestos laboratory. If you suspect asbestos, the safest approach is to treat the material as if it does contain asbestos.

What should I do if I suspect I have asbestos in my home?

Your first step should be to obtain a sample of the suspected material and have it analyzed at an accredited asbestos laboratory.

Sampling can be done professionally: Pinchin Environmental offer this service or contact a professional under “asbestos abatement/removal” services.

Following the proper precautions, you can also take your own samples and ship/bring them to an accredited asbestos testing facility such as Pinchin Environmental’s asbestos laboratory which is accredited by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP Lab Code 101270-0) and the relevant requirements of ISO 17025). It is extremely important to adhere to the following instructions to avoid releasing asbestos fibres into the air or on yourself.

Asbestos sampling precautions and instructions

(If you are dealing with Vermiculite/ZAI (Zonolite Attic Insulation) use these Vermiculite instructions instead of the following instructions.) 

The following is the procedure recommended by the Environmental Protection Association for the safe handling of potentially hazardous bulk samples: 

  1. Wear a single use NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) approved respirator (be sure to follow manufacturer’s instructions) and wear disposable  gloves and protective clothing.
  2. Turn off heating/cooling systems in the area to minimize the spread of any released fibres. Seal off the area as much as possible, making sure children and pets are not allowed in.
  3. Place a plastic sheet on the floor below the area where the sample is to be taken.
  4. Use a small “zip-lock” bag to contain the sample. The bag should be clean and dry. 
  5. Before taking the sample, wet the material to be sampled with a fine mist of water containing a few drops of detergent (this will minimize the release of asbestos fibres).
  6. Using a clean knife, cut out a small piece of material about 2 square inches or approximately 2 tablespoons worth and put in it the zip-lock bag. Be sure to penetrate  any paint or protective coating and make sure you sample all layers of the material. 
  7. Tightly close the sample bag and wipe the exterior with a damp paper towel to remove any material which may have adhered to the bag during sampling. 
  8. Using a small piece of duct tape, carefully make a patch to cover the cut-out sampled  area. This will prevent any fibres from being released.
  9. Carefully fold up the plastic sheet. Clean the work area using a damp paper towel or cloth, not a vacuum cleaner, and seal the asbestos waste, gloves, mask and cloth in a  plastic bag. Check with your local municipality on how to dispose of asbestos-containing  waste. Wash clothing separately and shower after completing the work.
  10. Label the sample bag identifying the structure, the date the sample was taken, the specific location of the sample in the room or structure, and who took the sample. 
  11. Enclose all samples in a large zip-lock bag along with an itemized list of the samples.
  12. Deliver by courier or by hand to a NVLAP (National Voluntary Laboratory Accredited Program) laboratory for asbestos analysis. The Pinchin Environmental Asbestos Laboratory is a NVLAP Lab code 101270-0 member.

How to submit an asbestos sample to Pinchin Environmental

Provide the following information on the Bulk Asbestos Chain of Custody Form included with the samples:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • (Fax or email address if you wish to receive the result in this manner).

Click here to go to the "Bulk Sample Chain of Custody Form".

Have samples brought, mailed or couriered with payment and Bulk Sample Transmittal Form to: 

Pinchin Environmental Ltd.
Mississauga Laboratory
Attention: Kendra Bertuzzi
2470 Milltower Court
Mississauga, ON L5N 7W5   (Map)

Office hours are 8:30 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday. There is a sample drop box beside the main doors of the Mississauga building. 

Phone: 905-363-1433
Toll Free: 1-(888-767-3330 ext. 1433
Fax: 905-363-0681
Email: Home Owners Contact Form

What should I do if I have asbestos in my home?

Don’t panic! Depending on the condition, location and the likelihood of disturbing or moving the asbestos, it may be best to do nothing. Asbestos that is properly enclosed and in good condition—i.e., there is no risk of fibres being released into the air—should  be left alone.

Check the material regularly, watching for signs of wear or damage. Do not disturb or touch the material and make sure it is not rubbed or banged or exposed to vibration, extreme air flow or moisture—these can all cause fibres to release into the air.

If the asbestos material is damaged, or you are considering a home remodelling project that will affect the area containing the asbestos, then contact a professional (check under “asbestos abatement/removal” services) for proper repair or removal.

For example, a professional repair to pipe, furnace or boiler insulation will either seal or cover the asbestos. The material will either be treated with a sealant that binds the fibres together or coats them so they can’t be released.

Asbestos removal is generally the least desirable option because it has the greatest risk of releasing fibres into the air, and can be very costly. However, if you are remodelling, or the asbestos is extensively damaged, removal may be the best choice. This complex and potentially risky procedure should only be undertaken by a qualified and experienced asbestos removal professional.

What do I need to know about hiring an asbestos professional?

Before hiring an asbestos removal/abatement professional, check credentials carefully. Make sure they have received training in the type of asbestos repair/removal you are looking for (i.e., are they experienced in attic insulation removal or do they do only tile work?). They should have proper provincial and federal accreditation and licenses in asbestos work. Check with the Better Business Bureau and find out if there are any safety violations or legal actions filed against the company. Ask for references and contact these previous customers. Get several estimates.

Be aware that some companies may encourage unwarranted removal of asbestos which can be expensive, and if done improperly, may jeopardize the health and safety of you and your family.

What should I look for once the professional is in my home?

Before work starts, get a written contract that details the work plan, cleanup and all applicable federal, provincial and local regulations that must be followed. The workers should be wearing approved respirators and other protective clothing. The work area should be properly sealed from the rest of your home. At the end of the job, the contractor should clean everything with wet mops and/or a special HEPA vacuum cleaner. A regular vacuum cleaner should never be used. 

Where can I get more information on asbestos?

Health Canada—Health Risks of Asbestos
http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/environment-environnement/outdoor-air-exterieur/asbestos-amiante-eng.php

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation—About your house: Asbestos
http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/maho/yohoyohe/inaiqu/inaiqu_001.cfm

Health Canada—Vermiculite insulation containing  amphibole asbestos
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/prod/insulation-isolant-eng.php

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—Asbestos website
http://www.epa.gov/asbestos/index.html