Exposure to asbestos can cause serious long-term health issues and even death. Asbestos was widely used in B.C. as a building material until the early 1990s, and it can be present in many areas of older buildings. If you suspect asbestos is present, do not touch or move it. Only qualified professionals can remove asbestos.
How workers are exposed
Anyone who repairs, renovates, or demolishes older buildings in B.C. is at risk of inhaling asbestos fibres. Found in dozens of items in older buildings, asbestos breaks down into small fibres as it ages or when it is disturbed. Touching or moving it releases the fibres into the air, where they can linger for hours.
Workers with the highest risk of inhaling the asbestos fibres include:
Demolition and renovation contractors
Carpenters, plumbers, and electricians
Building owners, home inspectors, insurance adjusters, and real estate agents
Breathing in asbestos fibres damages your lungs, causing serious health problems. These include:
Mesothelioma (a cancer)
Pleural thickening (a lung disease)
People exposed to asbestos won’t develop illnesses right away. It takes years for your health to suffer. Research shows that smokers who inhale asbestos fibres greatly increase their risk of lung cancer.
Never assume a building material is free of asbestos. You can’t tell just by looking at it. If you suspect asbestos is present, stop work immediately and have a qualified asbestos professional complete an asbestos survey.
If asbestos is found, the law requires employers to hire a qualified abatement contractor to remove it. A qualified person must also certify that the worksite air is safe, following the completion of the asbestos removal work. A notice of project must be submitted to WorkSafeBC for all asbestos work.
To reduce the potential for injury or disease, you need to control the risks and hazards in your workplace. If your building was built or renovated during a time when asbestos was in heavy use they one of the most effective and important things you can do is arrange for comprehesive asbestos testing. In the Vancouver Area, Progressive Environmenal Solutions is a certifed to test for Asbestos. Once you have the results, you can take the appropriate measures to protect your employees or any contractors if necessary, or proceed with confidence if you get the all clear.
The most effective way to manage the risk of exposure to asbestos is to eliminate the source of exposure. If that’s not possible, there are other risk controls to use. When choosing risk controls, start by asking yourself the questions in the following steps, listed in order of effectiveness. See our resources for more information.
1. Elimination or substitution
Eliminating the asbestos hazard by substituting a safer material, where possible, is the most effective control. For example:
Can you replace asbestos containing products such as brakes, clutches, or gaskets with non-asbestos substitutes?
2. Engineering controls
Making physical modifications to facilities, equipment, and processes can reduce exposure. Some questions to consider:
Can asbestos containing materials be encapsulated or enclosed
How can asbestos removal work areas be enclosed and the air filtered to prevent the escape of asbestos fibres?
How will worker exposure to asbestos be monitored?
How will asbestos waste be properly contained and disposed of?
3. Administrative controls
Changing work practices and work policies, awareness tools, and training can limit the risk of asbestos exposure. Some questions to consider:
Have you developed a written exposure control plan for asbestos?
How can warning signs be effectively posted to warn unprotected workers?
Where can written safe work procedures be posted?
How will you train workers regarding the hazards of asbestos and how to protect themselves?
4. Personal protective equipment
This is the least effective control. It must always be used in addition to at least one other control. Personal protective equipment must always be used when working with asbestos. Some questions to consider:
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibre that is strong and resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals. It is contained in more than 3,000 building materials made before 1990. It is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent).
In accordance with WorkSafeBC’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, an “asbestos-containing material” is a material that contains asbestos fibres totalling 0.5% or more by weight at the time of manufacture, or at any time as determined by specialized laboratory analysis.
All asbestos-containing materials must be handled with care during disposal.
Potential sources of asbestos
Materials that may be a source of asbestos include heat and noise insulation, fire-resistant materials, and cements and plasters.
Products that may contain asbestos include:
Acoustic ceiling tiles
If you want to dispose of blown-in insulation or acoustic ceiling tiles, you must have the original packaging that shows your materials do not contain asbestos, or have a certificate of analysis from an accredited laboratory from the past 30 days that show the material does not contain asbestos.
Used drywall from businesses and contractors is not accepted at the Landfill.
Used drywall is accepted from residents that have removed the drywall from their homes and transported it to the Landfill. Limits apply.
If you suspect a product contains asbestos (especially if you have blown-in insulation or acoustic ceiling tiles), but do not have the original packaging, have the product tested at an accredited laboratory, and get a certficate of analysis.
In Option 2 “Search by service and material”, choose “Asbestos testing” and your location.
Why test for asbestos
Asbestos testing is relatively inexpensive and can save you money at the Landfill. Each test costs between $25 to $100, depending on how soon you want the results. If the laboratory finds that your material does not contain asbestos, you have proof that you can dispose of the material as garbage. The rate for garbage disposal is significantly cheaper than the rate for asbestos burial.
Certificate of analysis
Your certificate of analysis must be from an accredited laboratory, be from within the past 30 days, and include a minimum of the following information:
If the analysis shows that the product does not contain asbestos, prepare and dispose of it as garbage at the landfill within 30 days of the test. Bring the results with you to the landfill.
If the test shows that the product does contain asbestos, prepare it accordingly. Asbestos disposal fees will apply.
Fees and drop off hours
The preparations, fees, and times you can drop off asbestos vary depending on whether you are dropping off residential or commercial asbestos waste.