What is Asbestos Made of and Why Was it Used?

The harmful effects of asbestos have transformed the construction industry, since this material was once used in a variety of products and building applications for many decades. Asbestos was extremely popular due to its affordability, as well as its commercially desirable physical properties, such as sound absorption, good tensile strength and resistance to fire, electrical damage, chemical damage, and heat. Although banned in over 50 countries, asbestos was mined in Canada until 2011. But what is asbestos made of and why is it still in use in some parts of the world?

What is Asbestos Made Of?

The term asbestos is used to describe a variety of naturally occurring silicate minerals with a fibrous structure and great resistance. Asbestos is made of impure magnesium silicate and comes in two forms, which are serpentine and amphibole. Due to its characteristics, asbestos has been used intensively for different applications, including fire proofing, thermal insulation, building materials, electrical insulation, brake linings, and more. However, despite its impressive characteristics, asbestos remains a serious health hazard.

Dangers Of Asbestos

Exposure to asbestos usually implies inhaling fibers from the air. Inhalation of asbestos fibers may occur in various situations, but it of greater concern during the mining and processing of asbestos, as well as during installation of asbestos insulation. When older buildings are demolished asbestos fibers are also released into the air, which is concerning for homeowners, contractors and demolition crews. Exposure can also occur when asbestos-containing materials start breaking down over time and asbestos fibers create a dust that floats in the air and is breathed in by people. In areas where asbestos has contaminated water that runs through asbestos cement pipes, the exposure is occurs though ingestion rather than inhalation. No matter how you are exposed, the consequences may be fatal.

The problem with these fibers, and what makes asbestos abatement a wise option, are the elevated concentrations that may occur after asbestos-containing materials are disturbed by drilling, cutting, sanding or other remodeling or renovation activities. Improper attempts to remove these materials can release fibers into the air in homes or buildings, increasing asbestos levels and endangering people living or working there.

Once asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can remain and accumulate in the lungs. Exposure creates a long-term risk of developing lung cancer, commonly known as asbestosis (an irreversible — and potentially fatal — scarring of the lungs), and mesothelioma (a cancer of the abdominal linings and the chest)

Which Products Contain Asbestos?

Many common products found in older buildings (Pre- mid to late eighties) and houses have contained asbestos in the past. Asbestos is a strong insulator, and in the form of a blanket or paper tape, the fibers cover:

  • steam pipes
  • boilers and furnace ducts
  • wood and coal stoves or furnaces (Door gaskets, cement sheet and millboard used around them often contained asbestos)
  • floor tiles
  • backing on vinyl sheet flooring
  • adhesives used to install tile
  • soundproofing material sprayed on walls and ceilings
  • wall and ceiling patching
  • drywall joint compounds.

Outside building products like cement roofing, shingles, and siding often contained asbestos, and even older household products like fireproof gloves, stove-top pads and ironing board covers might contain the material.

Why Was Asbestos Used?

Once referred to as the magic mineral or the Canadian gold, asbestos lost its sheen as more and more miners started showing signs of asbestos-related diseases. It takes a long time before an individual will show symptoms, but when it does, it is often too late. It came as a shock to many when asbestos was held responsible for serious illnesses, such as lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma, esophagus and colon cancer, or pleural plaques. With long latency periods, asbestos-related diseases have only become more apparent over the last decade. Workers of the 1970s have started developing cancer at disturbing rates, which was an alarm signal for authorities to start a campaign of cleaning up homes and buildings that were constructed with asbestos products.

Is Asbestos Still Being Used?

Asbestos is no longer mined in Canada and the asbestos industry seems to be dying. However, asbestos in many homes and buildings continues to remain a major cause of concern. In time, building materials that contain asbestos will start deteriorating and releasing fibers in the air exposing people to potentially deadly diseases. As a result, it is advisable that you seek professional help from a trusted asbestos removal team if you believe your property contains this toxic substance. Contact FERRO Canada immediately to learn more about how we can protect your health with asbestos abatement.