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Asbestos: the problem that never goes away, part 2

The story of the Canadian experience with asbestos is frightening. From the incredible number of applications of where it was used, to the deadly nature of mesothelioma, to official government policy that underplays the threat asbestos poses, the scope of the problem is astounding.

While the initial wave of victims of asbestos exposure has peaked, as they were exposed in mining, milling, shipyard and industrial uses, there is great concern that the asbestos crisis is far from peaking, as homes and buildings that were constructed prior to the 1990s deteriorate and are either demolished or renovated.

Millions of homeowners are at risk through ignorance. Unless they know someone who has died of mesothelioma, they may fail to recognize the risk posed by many of the materials in their home. If they do know of asbestos and its risks, they may be tempted to cut corners and save money.

Only 10 percent of home renovations are tested in Canada, and one asbestos abatement contractor describes the safety violations on botched jobs, noting that they leave the property "in a worse state than if they'd never showed up."

Older buildings present a growing danger as the asbestos products age and become friable, they increase the chances of their fibers becoming airborne. When repairs need to be done, cutting walls, pipes or air ducts all present a risk of releasing asbestos dust.

A great danger is we really have no idea of the true exposure to risk that in-place asbestos represents. Some nations, like Australia, have taken an aggressive approach, in both warning of the danger and inventorying locations that contain asbestos.

And the worldwide threat is growing daily. The World Health Organization estimates 125 million people are exposed to asbestos and more than 100,000 die every year.

Source: The Globe and Mail, "NO SAFE USE," Tavia Grant, June 13, 2014

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