Asbestos fiber

Prior to 1990, asbestos was primarily used to insulate buildings and residences against cold and noise. It was also used for fireproofing, which consists in reducing, controlling or delaying the combustion of flammable materials.

This mineral was prized for its:

  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Resistance to heat and chemical corrosion

It was often used in the construction of:

  • Houses
  • Schools
  • Libraries
  • Hospitals
  • Office towers
  • Residential buildings

The construction and trade industries used asbestos in products such as:

  • Cement and plaster
  • Industrial ovens and heating systems
  • Floor and ceiling tiles
  • Residential walls
  • Building insulation

Much has been written about the presence of asbestos in vermiculite. The contaminated vermiculite was extracted from the Libby mine in Montana and sold under the Zonolite brand. It was used from the 1950s to the mid-1980s.

Since it has been established that exposure to asbestos can have harmful effects on health, the use of materials containing asbestos has decreased considerably. On April 1, 2016, the Government of Canada prohibited its use in its own new construction or major renovation projects.

In addition, the Prohibition of Asbestos and Products Containing Asbestos Regulations came into force on December 30, 2018. These regulations prohibit the import, sale and use of asbestos and the manufacture, import, sale and use of products containing asbestos in Canada. It contains a limited number of exclusions.

Health risks

There are no significant health risks if the materials containing asbestos in a building are:

  • tightly bound in products and in good condition
  • sealed behind walls and floorboards
  • isolated in an attic
  • left undisturbed

Health impacts have been observed in certain people who were exposed to high concentrations of asbestos and formaldehyde fibres:

  • Asbestosis: the formation of scar tissue in the lungs that interferes with breathing
  • Mesothelioma: a rare form of cancer of the chest wall or abdominal cavity
  • Lung cancer: smoking combined with asbestos inhalation greatly increases the risk of lung cancer

Clues that might indicate that asbestos is present in a building

A simple visual inspection cannot reveal the presence of asbestos in the materials. Unlike moulds which leave traces, asbestos fibres measure only a few micrometers and are invisible to the naked eye. Tests are therefore required to detect their presence.

Asbestos can be present in various materials, but is most often found in:

  • Plasters and wall finishes such as stucco
  • Vermiculite
  • Heat-resistant panels
  • Thermal insulation found in the boiler rooms of older buildings

Buildings likely to contain asbestos are those that were built up to 1990. In practice, there are few cases of this problem in buildings dating after 1980. However, all buildings built before 1970 are at risk of containing asbestos.

The presence of asbestos in a building is of particular concern when asbestos fibres are released into the air. This can happen during demolition work, when materials containing asbestos are cut and hammered, or when there is water infiltration in the attic.

It is therefore important for the broker:

  • to disclose to the potential buyer of an immovable built with materials containing asbestos the potential impacts (health risks and cost of decontamination when reselling)
  • to find out the intentions of the prospective buyer
Are you representing clients who have fallen in love with an old building and wish to renovate it?
Recommend that they call on an expert to get a complete characterization study, according to accepted standards and in compliance with the legislation, to validate the presence of asbestos in the building before any renovation work is undertaken.

Reminder from the FARCIQ

The FARCIQ quite often receives claims from brokers involved in a dispute for having provided unverified information or for not being able to demonstrate that verifications were carried out by qualified persons.

To prevent this type of dispute, the FARCIQ reminds brokers that they are much more than a messenger who forwards information and documents. The broker must:

  • verify the accuracy of the information he provides, including by taking steps to lean of any factor that may affect the parties to the transaction
  • inform all parties to a transaction of any factor of which he is aware that may adversely affect the object of the transaction
  • advise and inform objectively, without exaggeration, concealment or misrepresentation
Last updated on: November 29, 2021
Reference number: 208808