A recent series of articles in the Globe and Mail newspaper shed some light on something many of us might not know about. It seems while many countries have banned the use of Asbestos, Canada lags behind. In fact, Canada has a long relationship with asbestos as we were once a leading producer. The last Canadian asbestos mine closed in 2011.

Today, any building built before 1991 has the risk of containing asbestos. Now this might not be a problem if these buildings remained intact but as these homes and offices age, they require renovations and that is where the danger arises. Left undisturbed, asbestos products pose little or no risk – but as soon as the hammers fly – asbestos fibres become airborne.

Asbestos related illnesses like mesothelioma don’t discriminate. Sure, construction workers are at the highest risk of exposure, but so are those living and working on or near the renovation site. Asbestos fibres can be carried home on work clothes and inhaled by a spouse doing the laundry – that’s all it takes for this product – once glorified for its versatility – to cause irrevocable damage.

Mesothelioma is a brutal and unforgiving disease. Most patients, once properly diagnosed, are given 6 months to a year to live. That time will be spent in and out of hospitals while undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or all of the above. The diagram shows how mesothelioma develops over time. For more information, visit www.mesothelioma.com.

In Canada, asbestos related illness is the #1 workplace caused death. According to worker’s compensation claim rates, the number of accepted claims for mesothelioma in Canada rose over 200 per cent between 1997 and 2010. Globally, approximately 107,000 people die each year from asbestos related illness. Worse still is the reality that continued use and exposure to asbestos – plus the long latency period of 20-40 years for mesothelioma, means that we will be seeing its affects for many years to come. The website www.asbestos.com has information on the latest research and statistics in Canada and around the world.

In spite of research dating back to the early 1900s showing the dangers of asbestos, the product remains today. So why hasn’t Canada followed the lead of countries like the United Kingdom and Australia in banning asbestos? Other countries have shown that once asbestos is banned, producers of products that formerly contained asbestos and rise to the challenge of using alternatives. Canada continues to export materials that contain asbestos and if the wold market demanded, could re-start mining to produce asbestos again. This is about economics much more than public health.

As claim rates increase and the cost of medical bills continues to rise, regulations will be sure to change. Some provinces are leading the trend to increase education, training and regulations related to asbestos handling in the workplace. All this being said, it’s up to you to educate yourself and protect your loved ones from exposure to asbestos.

Homeowner considering renovating an older home should have sampling and testing conducted by a qualified person. This will detect if there is any asbestos before any demolition begins. It can be present in drywall compound, ceiling tiles, vinyl flooring and insulation. Special respirators and other protective clothing are needed to minimize exposure, so hiring an experienced abatement worker is important. Even if you do decide to tackle the demolition yourself, check with your local landfill first. You may find yourself turned away with a load of hazardous waste and a much bigger clean up job than if you’d called an expert in the first place.

You do not want to be inhaling asbestos fibres.