The Impact of Asbestos


There’s been unnecessary deaths as a result of this and that is going to continue for a period of time to come. It is a very good building material. There’s no question about it. The only problem is is now we’ve discovered that it kills people. Building trades workers, construction workers, millwrights, engineers, or just production workers who happen to be around the material when it starts
to disintegrate or when there’s a repair being done
are exposed. There was enough evidence out there decades ago to put a stop to using these products. Why they would have a mineral like that going into homes and schools and hospitals doesn’t make any sense. The hazard is asbestos and the danger is breathing in the fibers when they’re released into the air. Older homes and buildings can have many asbestos-containing materials, such as vinyl tile flooring. These tiny fibers become airborne during renovation or demolition and become deadly. Prior to 1978, it was a free-for-all. Use it any way you want. You know when I started in the early 70s in one of the petroleum plants up in Northern British Columbia, I was openly working with asbestos dressed the way I am right now. I mean other than a hard hat and a pair of gloves, no respiratory protection, no coveralls, no containment, none of that stuff. My task was to take finishing cement off the existing tanks and save it because it wasn’t available. You couldn’t buy it anymore. Maybe that was the first indication there were some problems. It’s in a lot of building products that were used in industry and in commercial buildings. And people may not believe it, but it’s also present in a lot of building products used in houses. Early 70s I was doing some home renovation in an old house we had on the east side of Vancouver and part of that renovation was to sand off an old chimney coming up through the ceiling so it would look nice. And I’m like an idiot sanding it with power equipment, right, to get the old mortar off — you know how it sticks on the brick — you want to see the red brick. Mortar was full of asbestos, and it was in clouds in my kitchen for a week while I was wearing a little paper mask. So I was heavily exposed then. I don’t know what will happen to me. I’m hoping that nothing — and you know as I get older, but that’s the typical thing. I mean, you know,
I didn’t think about it. If you go and tear something out that’s got asbestos in it and you get fibers released and you don’t know how to clean up properly and you don’t know how to dispose of it properly, you’re not only putting yourself at risk, you’re putting your other household members at risk —
your kids and what-have-you. When a worker breathes in, asbestos fibers flow down the air passages deep into the lungs. Immune system cells try to break down the asbestos fibers, and become damaged and die. Scar tissue forms around the dead cells. Asbestos fibers can remain in the lungs for long periods, and the scar tissue that results continues to develop for many years after exposure. Eventually so much scar tissue develops
that the lungs stop working. My dad was very, very health and safety conscious. I know that if anybody had said to him that the products that he was handling could potentially make him sick later in life, he would have taken whatever precautions were necessary. When he retired without being in any sort of accident or incident working in a mill and working on high-voltage, I think we sort of thought he was safe and that, you know, we didn’t have to worry about that part anymore. So yeah to learn that what he was dying from was a workplace exposure — it was devastating. The frustrating thing was he’d been healthy his whole life. His parents had both lived to late 80s, early 90s. There was no health issues in his family. So he had every expectation of a sort of a long healthy retirement. So it was hard. One of the diseases associated with asbestos exposure is Mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a cancer, but it’s a cancer of the lining of the internal organs of the body. So you’ve got a lining of your lungs, and you’ve got a lining of internal organs in your main body cavity, and this is where this particular cancer hits. If you’re going to work on your house, if you’re going to disturb this stuff, there are ways of doing it safely. But you have to make an effort to find out what those are. It can be in your ceiling, it can be in your drywall, it can be in your floors, it can be in your attics. Don’t just have somebody in and tear this stuff out without taking the appropriate precautions because you put yourself at risk, you put your family at risk, and the contractor is at risk. Asbestos disease is the number one killer of workers in BC. If you’re working on an older home or in the renovation or demolition industry, always test for asbestos and only remove it if you are trained and qualified. For more information about asbestos, go to worksafebc.com