Plan­ning a home ren­o­va­tion or de­mo­li­tion? Think about as­bestos

The Province - - HOMES - Robin bRunet Post­media Con­tent WoRks

W het­her you’re plan­ning on de­mol­ish­ing your home or sim­ply ren­o­vat­ing the ex­ist­ing one, don’t bring out the sledge­ham­mers yet: if your house was built be­fore the 1990s, chances are it may con­tain as­bestos – and even a task as ba­sic as tear­ing up a kitchen floor may cause deadly as­bestos fi­bres to be­come air­borne.

Over 3,000 pre-1990s build­ing ma­te­ri­als con­tain as­bestos, from linoleum and sheet floor­ing to tiles and pop­corn ceil­ings. “As­bestos was used ex­ten­sively in res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion through­out the 1960s, ’70s and to the end of the 1980s, pri­mar­ily be­cause of its su­pe­rior in­su­la­tion and fire­proof­ing prop­er­ties,” says Al John­son, vice-pres­i­dent of Pre­ven­tion Ser­vices at WorkSafeBC.

The ma­te­ri­als don’t pose a health haz­ard if they’re left undis­turbed; but when they are bro­ken or ripped apart, as­bestos is re­leased into the air and can eas­ily be in­haled. Worse still, as­bestos is colour­less and odour­less: you can’t see it or smell it, so there’s no way for the av­er­age home­owner to tell what ma­te­ri­als con­tain the sub­stance or if fi­bres are air­borne, which can lead to work­ers and even fam­ily mem­bers be­ing ex­posed.

It’s a trou­bling prob­lem, es­pe­cially in light of WorkSafeBC num­bers show­ing that as­bestos-re­lated dis­ease is the lead­ing cause of work­place death in BC: in 2015, 49 work­ers died from as­bestos-re­lated dis­eases in­clud­ing as­besto­sis, lung can­cer and mesothe­lioma “As­bestos kills,” says John­son, “and it needs to be taken se­ri­ously. This in­cludes property own­ers of sin­gle-fam­ily homes, town homes or con­do­mini­ums.”

More­over, whether it’s be­cause as­bestos has been so in­deli­bly linked to heavy in­dus­try or be­cause home ren­o­va­tion/de­mo­li­tion is re­garded as rel­a­tively be­nign, home­own­ers of pre-1990 homes are gen­er­ally un­aware of the risks hid­ing in plain sight. “We re­cently con­ducted a sur­vey of adults in B.C., and of those who had ren­o­vated their pre1990s home in the past five years, only about one-third (36 per cent) re­call test­ing for as­bestos,” says John­son. “In other words, about two-thirds did not think about as­bestos, or did the test­ing.

“There’s an as­sump­tion, es­pe­cially among peo­ple who are plan­ning on do­ing only mi­nor home up­grades, that as­bestos health risks will be min­i­mal and not worth wor­ry­ing about,” says John­son. “But this is a dan­ger­ous as­sump­tion to make: sci­en­tific ev­i­dence shows as­bestos-re­lated dis­eases can oc­cur in even low-level ex­po­sure cases; so our po­si­tion is that no level of ex­po­sure is safe.” For­tu­nately, it’s rel­a­tively straight­for­ward to pre­vent your­self, your fam­ily and those who work on your home from be­ing at risk, John­son says: “At WorkSafeBC, our mes­sage is three­fold: think about as­bestos; iden­tify it; then re­move it - be­fore work be­gins on your home.”

In or­der to prop­erly iden­tify as­bestos in your pre1990-built home, a qual­i­fied test­ing com­pany or as­bestos sur­veyor must be hired. The test­ing com­pany or sur­veyor will take sam­ples of pos­si­ble as­bestos-con­tain­ing ma­te­ri­als, and send them to a lab for test­ing. The sur­veyor will then pro­duce a re­port of the lo­ca­tion of as­bestos in your home.

It’s cru­cial to iden­tify all as­bestos-con­tain­ing ma­te­ri­als that might be dis­turbed dur­ing a ren­o­va­tion; other­wise, con­tam­i­na­tion may spread through­out the en­tire house.

The next step is to have the as­bestos re­moved by a qual­i­fied abate­ment con­trac­tor, who uses the sur­veyor’s re­port to safely re­move and con­tain all of the ma­te­ri­als iden­ti­fied as con­tain­ing as­bestos. Once the job is done, the abate­ment con­trac­tor will pro­vide a re­port con­firm­ing that all as­bestos has been re­moved, and that the property is ready for de­mo­li­tion or ren­o­va­tion.

Hir­ing a rep­utable abate­ment con­trac­tor is straight­for­ward. Lists can be ob­tained from the Haz­ardous Ma­te­ri­als As­so­ci­a­tion of B.C. or the B.C. As­so­ci­a­tion of Restora­tion Con­trac­tors. You can find a list of top 10 ques­tions to ask an abate­ment con­trac­tor prior to start­ing work at thinkas­bestos.com.

Deal­ing with as­bestos up­front in a ren­o­va­tion or de­mo­li­tion project will cost ex­tra time and money. Al John­son ac­knowl­edges this and main­tains that “con­sid­er­ing the well-doc­u­mented risks of as­bestos ex­po­sure, we think in­vest­ing in the health and safety of home­own­ers and work­ers is money well spent.”

WorkSafeBC has launched an aware­ness cam­paign tar­get­ing home­own­ers – talk­ing about the dan­gers of as­bestos ex­po­sure, and their web­site pro­vides com­pre­hen­sive in­for­ma­tion about as­bestos, where it can be found in homes, and how to safely deal with it.

Visit thinkas­bestos.com.

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