What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name for a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals that have been widely used because they’re durable and resist high heat.
Caution sign for asbestos

There are 2 main categories of asbestos:

Amphibole asbestos is often called blue or brown asbestos. It causes cancer and is not used very much anymore. Amphibole asbestos has many different subtypes, including actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite, crocidolite and tremolite.

Serpentine asbestos is sometimes called white asbestos or chrysotile asbestos. It too causes cancer. Chrysotile asbestos is currently the most commonly used form of asbestos in the world. It’s found in almost all asbestos-based products available today, including brake linings, building materials, water and sewer pipes and insulation.

Caution sign for asbestos

Asbestos and cancer

All forms of asbestos cause cancer.

Exposure to asbestos causes many cancers, including lung cancer, mesothelioma (a rare cancer of the lining of the chest or abdominal cavity), laryngeal cancer, ovarian cancer and possibly pharyngeal, stomach and colorectal cancers.

Exposure is highest for people who mine asbestos or work with it in manufacturing, so the risk of developing cancer is also potentially the highest in these groups. People who are exposed to asbestos and who use tobacco are at even greater risk of developing lung cancer.

It often takes decades after exposure for an asbestos-related cancer to develop. The more asbestos you were around and the longer you were exposed, the greater your risk of developing cancer.

Read about our advocacy work to ban asbestos in Canada.

Worker in protective clothing removing asbestos from an old pipe

On the job: how you may be exposed to asbestos

Did you know that asbestos exposure is Canada’s leading cause of workplace death?

In Canada, exposure to asbestos is highest for people who work with it. Those types of jobs include:

  • construction
  • home and building renovation
  • maintenance in certain industries (smelting, petroleum, refining and pulp and paper)
  • repairing vehicle brakes
  • repairing ships
Worker in protective clothing removing asbestos from an old pipe

People who work with asbestos can also expose their families if fibres come home on them or their clothing.

If you work with asbestos, make sure your employer follows the regulations so that you are exposed as little as possible. If you are an employer, make sure you know how to make your work environment as safe as possible. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (1-800-668-4284) can help answer any questions you may have.

Learn more about asbestos in the workplace from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Worker in protective gear disposing of asbestos

CAREX Canada asbestos fact sheet

Explore the fact sheet to better understand the burden of cancer from workplace exposure to asbestos in Canada.
Worker in protective gear disposing of asbestos