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.
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.
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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.
In your community and at home: how you may be exposed to asbestos
In Canada, people who work with asbestos are the ones who are most exposed to it.
You may be exposed to asbestos from materials from other countries or products that have asbestos in them. Some older buildings still contain asbestos. As these structures begin to wear with age or get renovated, you can be exposed to asbestos fibres released into the air and breathed into the lungs.
Do everything you can to avoid breathing in asbestos fibres. Asbestos fibres that are left alone when they are enclosed or tightly bound in a product do not pose the same health risk as asbestos fibres that are released into the air and breathed into the lungs.
Before starting any home renovations or demolition around areas that may contain asbestos, have a professional contractor experienced in removing asbestos safely (which is known as asbestos abatement) inspect your home.