Asbestos is a group a naturally-occurring fibrous silicate minerals that were commonly used in construction and industrial materials due to its high strength, durability, and resistances to heat and chemicals. Asbestos is made up of small, thin fibres invisible to the naked eye, ranging between 1-8 micrometers in diameter and 1-30+ micrometers in length. Asbestos-Containing Materials (ACMs) are commonly found in structures and some industrial equipment built before 1990.
Asbestos presents a health hazard when airborne fibres are inhaled. In order for fibres to become airborne, an ACM must be broken-down or disturbed so that fibres are released. An important property of ACMs is their friability, which is essentially how easily the material can be broken apart and release fibres. Friable materials (e.g. asbestos spray insulation, pipe wrap) release fibres easily when handled or are disturbed. Non-friable materials (e.g. floor tiles, mastics, drywall joint compound) will not release fibres when handled (unless damaged), and will only do so when severely disturbed, such as being broken apart, cut, drilled, etc. For all ACMs regardless of friability, fibres will only be release when the materials are disturbed.
There can be serious and long-term health effects caused by exposure to asbestos fibres, and unfortunately the time between exposure and illness development is very long – generally between 10 to 30 years. However, the development of illness is related to the extent of asbestos exposure – the risk generally increases with exposure concentration, duration, and repetition. Asbestos-related illnesses generally develop in those who worked directly with or near ACMs being disturbed without adequate controls in place.
Asbestos exposures can lead to the following serious respiratory illnesses:
A chronic lung disease where prolonged and repeated exposures to asbestos fibres causes the lungs to becoming scarred and stiffen, resulting in a progressive difficulty breathing.
Exposure to asbestos fibres is a known cause of lung cancer – where the risk of developing the disease increases with more extensive asbestos exposures. This risk is significantly increased in those who were both repeatedly exposed to asbestos and were tobacco smokers.
A rare asbestos-related illness, mesothelioma is an aggressive and malignant cancer of the pleura; the tissue lining of the lungs and stomach. Asbestos exposure the primary cause of mesothelioma.
Due to the age of several buildings at BCIT, ACMs are present and may be encounter at the institute. BCIT is committed to ensuring that the community is not exposed to asbestos while at the institute, and any persisting materials remain because they are not friable, not accessible, and/or are in good condition. Materials that may be encounter at the campus include:
- Ceiling Plaster/Tiles
- Floor Tiles/Vinyl/Adhesives
- Pipe Insulation/Fire Stops
- Roofing Materials
- Window Caulking.
A comprehensive of all known or suspected materials at BCIT is maintained by BCIT Facilities Services. If you have any concerns about a material in your work environment, please contact BCIT Facilities Services or BCIT OHS (604-432-8728) for more information.
Asbestos is only a hazard if it is breathed in, and undisturbed materials do not release fibres. Materials that are easily accessible at BCIT are not friable (e.g. floor tiles, vinyl, adhesives, drywall joint compound) and do not release fibres from day-to-day interactions with the community. Non-friable materials must be actively broken apart in order to release fibres (e.g. cutting, drilling, grinding); work that is not permitted without training, procedures, and control measures. Overall, the risk of building occupants being exposed to asbestos due to materials being present but undisturbed is very low.
When an ACM is damaged it becomes more friable, with increased damage extent causing increased friability. Undisturbed, the damaged material is not actively releasing fibres, however the damage can make it so that the material may release fibres if disturbed or can more easily become further damaged to the point where it can easily release fibres if disturbed. If you encounter a damaged material that you suspect contains asbestos, notify your supervisor immediately followed by BCIT Facilities Services. If the object with the material is not a part of the building or is operated by the school/department (e.g. boiler, equipment piece/component, etc.) contact BCIT OHS for assistance. Students who encounter as suspect ACM that is damage should notify their instructor or BCIT Security.
BCIT documents that detail how asbestos is managed at BCIT, including how it is identified, assessed and inventoried. The documents also describe what work with ACM is permitted to be done by BCIT, and what training, procedures, and controls must be followed in order to do so safely.
BCIT Facilities Services and BCIT OHS
Both BCIT Facilities Services and BCIT OHS staff are trained to work safely around ACMs, and are able to respond to take actions to control exposure risk should a potential asbestos hazard be identified (e.g. damaged material). BCIT OHS is also available as a resource and subject-matter expert for any questions or concerns regarding asbestos at BCIT.
Contractor work with asbestos
The majority of work with ACMs is done by qualified asbestos abatement contractors whose procedures and controls have been reviewed and approved by OHS as per the Contractor Safety Program. Qualified environmental consultants are also retained to survey and test materials at the institute and to oversee all major projects involving asbestos.
Asbestos incident or suspected exposure
If you suspect you may have been exposed to asbestos fibres, immediately take the following steps:
- Remove yourself from the potential hazardous situation/environment.
- Immediately contact your supervisor, BCIT OHS, and if you cannot reach OHS, BCIT Security (604-451-6856).
- Report to first aid and/or make an injury/illness/exposure report.
- Students are to contact their instructor, who will contact BCIT OHS and file a report on their behalf.
Once reported, an incident investigation will be initiated. If the suspect exposure is also related to a damaged material, please refer to the previous section titled Damaged Building Materials for directions.
Please contact BCIT OHS (604-432-8728) for more information about the asbestos at BCIT. As well, please feel free to refer to any of the resources below for more information about asbestos.