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  • Writer's pictureTrieste Reading

Illegal dumping is tipping the scales on asbestos exposure risks for the worse

In November 2015, WorkSafeBC shut down New West Gypsum Recycling due to safety concerns over asbestos containing drywall. A few weeks later, Metro Vancouver shut down six of its drywall collection sites over the same concerns. New regulations have now been introduced to protect workers who accept drywall into these facilities. As a result of these new regulations, there has been an unprecedented increase in "fly-tipping" or illegal dumping. Both Global News and CTV News have reported on this issue with CTV stating that “illegal dumping is a multi-million dollar problem in the Lower Mainland and there is a growing concern as asbestos dumping becomes more common.”

​Over the last few years, the number of illegal asbestos waste dumps that we have been called to clean up have increased drastically. From what we can observe, as a provider of asbestos disposal, is that unethical contractors are trying to save money by disposing of the waste illegally and that homeowners who may not have budgeted for the asbestos removal costs do not know what to do or who to call about disposing it. This lack of awareness for how to properly dispose of asbestos containing waste is something that we can work to improve.

In the Lower Mainland there are businesses, such as us, and other remediation companies that are licensed by the Ministry of Environment to transport and store hazardous waste. With these organizations here to provide support, there is no reason to be illegally dumping asbestos. But in order to improve our awareness, companies like us need to do more to promote our services and make ourselves available to customers and customers need to do their part in researching these options. The illegal dumping of asbestos is of particular concern due to the serious effects it can have on the environment and our health.

​​The Environment

Asbestos is not harmful unless it is disturbed. If building materials become uncovered or disturbed during home renovations the fibres can become airborne and pose the risk of being inhaled by the occupants of the home. However, airborne fibres can also have an ecological impact. This is something we don’t often consider because asbestos is always found within the confines of a building. With the increase in “fly-tipping”, asbestos fibres are being released into the environment.

According to the organization Greenne, “when asbestos is released into the environment it contaminates the air (where it can be inhaled), water (where it can be ingested) and soil”. Asbestos can travel for long distances in the air before it settles into water or atop of soil, thus contaminating areas far away from its source. Therefore, the location where the asbestos waste is dumped and its surrounding areas are at risk for asbestos contamination. As well as that, small asbestos fibres remain intact in air, water and soil. It does not break down or biodegrade. Greenne notes that “the fibres do not absorb into the soil and instead sit on top of the soil, where it can be disturbed and redistributed into the air.”

Health Risks

It’s important to note that asbestos is only considered a health risk when the fibres are inhaled over an extended period of time. One time exposure to asbestos is unlikely to cause illness. Conditions that develop as a result of asbestos often develop several years after long-term, high-level exposure. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) state that the risk of asbestos related diseases, in particular lung cancer, depends on a number of factors which include:

  • The level (how much) and the duration (length) of exposure

  • The time since exposure occurred

  • The age at which exposure occurred

  • The type and size of asbestos fibers

The Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) notes that “we are all exposed to low levels of asbestos in the air,” with levels ranging from “0.00001 to 0.0001 fibres per milliliter (fibre/mL).” However, the illegal dumping of asbestos waste could increase the levels of asbestos fibres in the environment.

Illegal dumping of asbestos waste should not be anyone’s only option and it’s not. There are organizations that here to properly dispose of this hazardous material. In disposing of the waste legally we can reduce our risk of exposure by keeping the environment clean. If you have any questions regarding the disposal process of asbestos waste we would be happy to answer them.

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