All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic and there is no safe level of exposure. If asbestos fibres are inhaled, it can lead to crippling and fatal diseases including several types of cancer and asbestosis.
Asbestos is a durable inexpensive mineral fibre used to make cement pipes, wallboard, siding, roofing, flooring, plaster, insulation, fireproofing material, ductwork, and adhesives.
Asbestos use peaked in the 1960s and early 1970s. Since then many countries have banned the use of asbestos resulting in a significant drop in its use.
Canada has placed a ban on the use of asbestos in many products. However we still import tubes and pipes, corrugated sheets and panels, paper, millboard, clothing, and other asbestos based materials. As a result, certain work environments and occupations continue to be exposed to asbestos in Canada which includes mechanics, asbestos removal workers, millwrights and miners.
During renovations and repairs to older buildings, construction workers, trades people, building maintenance workers and homeowners may be exposed to very high concentrations of asbestos fibres.
The general population is also at risk of exposure, particularly individuals who live and work in buildings with deteriorating asbestos insulation when the asbestos-containing material is disturbed in some way to release particles and fibres into the air.
Globally, 125 million people are exposed to asbestos each year and 107,000 people die from asbestos-related diseases.
Asbestos is the leading cause of industrial cancer deaths in Canada. In 2010, more than 152,000 Canadian workers were exposed to asbestos in the workplace.
A third of occupational cancer deaths are caused by asbestos.
To mitigate exposure to asbestos, the World Health Organization recommends creating a public registry of buildings that contains asbestos.
On April 18, 2013 Bill 604 (called Howard's Law) was passed making it mandatory to register government buildings with asbestos in them.