Asbestos and your health

Learn about asbestos, its health risks, and how to reduce your exposure.

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About asbestos

There are several fibrous minerals commonly known as asbestos. These minerals can be used to make products strong, long lasting and fire-resistant.

Before 1990, asbestos was mainly used for insulating buildings and homes against cold weather and noise. It was also used for fireproofing.

The manufacture, import, sale and use of products containing asbestos is prohibited in Canada.

However, asbestos may still be found in older building materials, such as:

  • house siding
  • cement and plaster
  • floor and ceiling tiles
  • roofing products, such as:
    • tar paper
    • shingles and felt
  • surface treatments, such as:
    • paint
    • putty
    • drywall
    • caulking
    • sealants
    • spackling
  • industrial furnaces and heating systems
  • insulation, including around hot water pipes and tanks

Some older automotive parts may contain asbestos, including:

  • vehicle transmission components, like clutches
  • car and truck brake pads

Asbestos fibres may also be released into drinking water.

Safety of asbestos

Breathing in asbestos fibres can cause:

  • lung cancer
  • asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs, which makes it difficult to breathe
  • mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lining of the chest or abdominal cavity
  • other diseases

You can breathe in small asbestos fibres (or dust) released into the air from building materials during renovation and demolition activities such as:

  • drilling
  • sawing
  • sanding
  • scraping
  • removing
  • disturbing
  • breaking apart
  • smoothing rough edges

You can also breathe in asbestos fibres released when you're working on car or truck brakes, or replacing a transmission clutch.

However, there are no significant health risks if materials containing asbestos in your home are:

  • left undisturbed
  • isolated in an attic
  • sealed behind walls and floorboards
  • tightly bound in products that are in good condition

What we're doing to reduce your exposure to asbestos

To reduce your exposure to asbestos, we introduced more stringent regulations prohibiting asbestos and products containing asbestos in 2018. The regulations prohibit the:

  • import, sale and use of asbestos
  • manufacture, import, sale and use of products containing asbestos, with a limited number of exclusions

What you can do to reduce your exposure to asbestos

You can:

  • avoid disturbing materials that may contain asbestos.
  • hire a professional to test for asbestos before renovating or remodelling. If a professional finds asbestos, hire a qualified asbestos removal specialist to remove it safely.

Vermiculite-based insulation may contain asbestos. If you have it in your attic or walls:

  • don't use the attic for storage
  • keep children out of the attic
  • don't disturb it or attempt to remove it yourself
  • apply caulking to seal openings or gaps around:
    • attic hatch
    • baseboards
    • light fixtures
    • electrical outlets
    • window and door frames
  • repair any crack or holes in the walls and ceilings
  • hire professionals trained to handle asbestos if you plan to renovate

Before doing car maintenance yourself:

  • check with the auto parts supplier to see if your older brake or transmission parts contain asbestos
  • consider having your brakes or transmission clutch serviced at a commercial automotive shop

If you work in maintenance or construction, find out if asbestos is present in your work area. If you're unsure, check with a qualified asbestos removal specialist.

If you're an auto mechanic, check with your parts supplier to find out if any older replacement brake pads or transmission parts you're working with contain asbestos. If you're unsure, check with your federal, provincial or territorial workplace safety authority for precautions you should take.

If you're exposed to asbestos at work, talk to your employer and occupational health and safety (OHS) official about:

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