Nowadays it seems more and more Canadians are scared of things they don’t consider “natural.” So, of course, when they hear about asbestos, they conjure up a big industry boogieman who has created an evil, dangerous, human-made substance that kills everyday people in order to satisfy an unquestionable greed. But the truth is much more mundane than that. Asbestos is a rock, and it’s 100% natural. It’s just also dangerous.
We’re assuming you’ve heard of garnet and jade. These rocks are relatives of asbestos, and all three are part of a larger family of silicate minerals. Don’t worry, you don’t need to get rid of your jade or garnet statues or jewelry — they’re perfectly safe. One of the unique properties of asbestos is the long, fibrous structure of the rock. Rather than being firm and solid like we expect from most minerals, asbestos easily breaks down into long, thread like fibers. This trait makes asbestos extremely easy to weave into fabrics and add to other materials.
In fact, it’s so easy to use that asbestos has been a part of human tools and objects for over 4500 years. It was used in fabrics, pottery, and more, because in many ways asbestos is an ideal material. It’s fire proof, resistant to chemical change, absorbs sound, is strong, and very affordable. These excellent properties lead to asbestos being cherished, and fabrics made from asbestos were often thought by the ancients to be made from mystical creatures like the fire salamander.
During the industrial revolution, the mining and use of asbestos exponentially rose. The same amazing properties that attracted ancient civilizations to asbestos continued to make it a practical choice for industry. In the height of its use, everyday asbestos containing materials numbered in the thousands, and even average Canadians had hundreds of asbestos containing materials at home. Popcorn ceilings, interior doors, drywall, plaster, and floor tiles are just a few examples of asbestos containing materials that are still commonly found in Canadian homes.
At the turn of the 20th century, Dr. Montague Murray began noting the negative health effects of exposure to asbestos. In 1900, he found traces of asbestos in the lungs of a young man who had died after 14 years working in the asbestos industry. More doctors started studying asbestos, and in the early 1900s many doctors began noticing the incredibly high rate of early death and lung illnesses in the asbestos mining towns.
On the scientific foundation built by the doctors of the early 1900s, we now know for certain that inhaling asbestos fibers contributes to early death. While it may seem counterintuitive that a naturally occurring mineral would lead to these sorts of problems, asbestos is not something any homeowner should take lightly. If you think your home may contain asbestos — and many Canadian homes built before the 90s do — you should contact the experts at Amity Environmental.