Asbestos in Canadian Universities
WHAT IS ASBESTOS?
"Asbestos" is the industry term given to several types of fibrous minerals. It is a crystalline structure comprised of microscopic long and thin fibres. Asbestos has been incorporated into numerous products due to its high tensile strength, electrical resistance, flexibility, thermal insulation and high resistance to chemical and thermal degradation.
Asbestos is sectioned into two groups according to its crystalline structure. The amphibole group includes: amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite. The serpentine group includes: chrysotile. Chrysotile is still mined and manufactured in Canada. 95% of Canadian chrysotile is exported to developing countries.
Over 3, 000 products have been manufactured with asbestos. It is impossible for the average student to recognize if a product contains any form of asbestos, as products are not labelled. Products in schools which may contain asbestos include:
- Acoustical/ Textured ceiling materials (often found in science lecture rooms, cafeterias, and sport complexes)
- Laboratory bench tops, sinks, and shelves (often found in laboratories)
- Duct, broiler, and tank insulation (often found in mechanical equipment rooms, and tunnels)
- Asphalt or vinyl floor tiles (often found in classrooms, offices, laboratories, cafeterias, public areas, and under carpet in older dormitory bedrooms)
- Spray-applied insulation and pipe insulation (often found in older classrooms, athletic complexes, and tunnels)
Asbestos is only dangerous when it is disturbed. Renovation and construction work, and damage due to age and weathering can accidentally release asbestos fibres into the surrounding environment.
METHODS OF EXPOSURE
Asbestos fibres can enter your body via inhalation and ingestion.
RESULTING HEALTH ILNESSES RESULTING FROM EXPOSURE
Staggering statistics calculated by Dr. Jukka Takala, Director of InFocus Programme SafeWork at the International Labour Organization estimates that over 100,000 cases of work-related deaths due to asbestos exposure occur worldwide each year. Dr. Jukka Takala admits that this figure is “underestimated” by 42%1. Dr. Takala also expects this global figure to rise in the next few decades if measures against asbestos are not quickly introduced.
There is no scientific evidence of a “safe” exposure level to asbestos. When asbestos is disturbed, it partitions into microscopic airborne fibre particles. Once these fibres are airborne, they can easily enter your lungs. Inside your lungs, asbestos fibres accumulate in the mucous membranes of your throat and nose. Many of these fibres are released when you exhale and cough. However, a significant number will remain inside your lungs. These fibres can remain latent in your lungs, even decades after exposure ceases. Once inside your lungs, these fibres accumulate in the tissue of your lungs, resulting in the development of one or more asbestos-related illnesses.
There are three primary health illnesses that can result from exposure to asbestos:
- Asbestosis: A scarring of the lungs which leads to imminent heart failure. Asbestosis results from exposure to asbestos fibres over an extended period of time.
- Mesothelioma: A fatal cancer of the lungs or abdominal cavity which results from short-term exposure to asbestos.
- Lung Cancer: Lung cancer can be contracted through either occupational or environmental exposure to asbestos.
Other asbestos-related cancers include kidney, stomach, oral cavity, larynx, and oesophagus.
The latency period for developing one or more asbestos-related illnesses is between 20 and 40 years.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For more information, please visit:
Ban Asbestos Canada:
Ban Asbestos Canada is a coalition of national environmental groups, activists, and asbestos victims united in the global fight to ban asbestos, to support victim compensation, and to promote a just-transition for asbestos workers.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
To make a formal complaint against asbestos in our schools and the continued use of chrysotile asbestos, contact:
- Honourable John Baird, Minister of the Environment
- Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Health
- Pierre Corbeil, Minister of Natural Resources, Quebec
- Hon. Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources, Canada
1 Mining Watch Canada (MWC). Summer 2003. Canadian Asbestos: A Global Concern. Newsletter; number 13. Ottawa, Ontario: pp 2.