What Does Asbestos Smell Like?

You may already know that asbestos exposure is harmful. But how do you know if there are materials that contain asbestos in your home?

If you inhale asbestos, you might have no idea—the fibers are odourless, tasteless, and invisible to the naked eye.

Even if asbestos did have a distinct smell, it wouldn’t be a good idea to try and sniff it out. This is because inhaling asbestos fibers causes serious health hazards.

It isn’t as easy to identify asbestos as it is a gas leak. There’s no telltale smell that gives it away. A major issue is that it was used a lot in most homes built before 1990

If you want to learn more about how to identify asbestos and how it’s used, keep reading; we’ll also discuss what to do if you discover asbestos in your home.

How to Identify Asbestos

The asbestos smell is nothing like that of rotten eggs or strong chemicals—it’s undetectable. Health issues that result from exposure (like lung cancer) do not manifest until many years later. This poses a sinister problem: how do you protect yourself from asbestos exposure if you can’t discern what it smells or looks like?

One way to identify asbestos is to obtain a sample of the material and send it to a lab for testing. If you know the name of the product or its manufacturer, you can search for it online to see if it contains asbestos.

Alternatively, schedule an inspection with an asbestos removal company. This is the safest, quickest, and most effective way to identify asbestos.

What is Asbestos?

You might be asking yourself: why is a material that’s so deadly used so commonly?

Asbestos is known for its fire-resistant, soundproofing, and insulating properties. It’s useful and versatile for many applications and construction projects. It’s malleable, flexible, and resilient against corrosion. Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly toxic.

This mineral is obtained from deposits in asbestos mines. It occurs naturally in many parts of the world. Upon discovery, asbestos seemed like an excellent material to use in hundreds of projects. It was only later that we discovered the link between asbestos exposure and cancer.

How Does Inhaling Asbestos Harm Your Health?

Exposure to asbestos can cause lung cancer. It’s also known to cause mesothelioma and asbestosis. 

These diseases are caused by the inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers. It results in scarring in the lungs once they’re inhaled. The fibers are incredibly small, which explains why they’re invisible when airborne.

Symptoms of these illnesses include shortness of breath, tightness of the chest, gastrointestinal issues, and coughing/wheezing.

With repeated exposure, the chance of developing lung cancer or receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis increases. This is why so many asbestos workers contract these diseases. Unfortunately, there is no way to remove asbestos fibers from the lungs once they are inhaled. There are few treatment options for asbestos-related cancers and diseases after diagnosis.

When the harmful effects of asbestos were first documented, many businesses actively tried to cover them up. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the use of asbestos became less popular. This is why many homes and other buildings built before the 1990s often contain asbestos in the insulation, floor tiles, and ceilings.

Surprisingly, asbestos still remains legal to obtain and manufacture in many countries. Canada has recently imposed stricter regulations on the use of asbestos. 

Is Asbestos Always Harmful?

If asbestos is found in your home, does that mean you are at risk?

Not necessarily. In some cases, the asbestos is safe if it’s undisturbed, sealed, and unexposed. However, the only way to make certain that this is the case is to call an asbestos specialist to inspect your home.

Anytime you are planning a home renovation or remodel, make sure that you are not demolishing materials that contain asbestos. This is a job best left to trained professionals who understand how to safely remove this toxic material.

Building Materials that Commonly Contain Asbestos

In Canada, asbestos was once used and sold in many products. It adds fireproofing and durability to materials. Here were a few of its most common applications:

  • Insulation

Asbestos made for efficient insulation for two reasons: it provided a barrier against noise and prevented heat loss. It was often used to insulate attics, as well as pipes and heating systems. Its fire-resistance made it a good candidate to use in homes.

  • Construction materials

You name it, asbestos was in it. Throughout the 1900s, asbestos was used in floor tiles, paper products, siding, roof shingles, and more. 

Most lung diseases are caused by occupational work. This is why construction workers often develop lung cancer years after they’ve been exposed to asbestos.

  • And more

Asbestos has been found in items that you wouldn’t necessarily expect, including cigarette filters, makeup (which contained talcum powder), and brake pads for cars. It’s even used in jewelry.

What Can We Use Instead of Asbestos?

When the harmful effects of asbestos were widely publicized, we needed to find a replacement for this toxic yet useful material. Luckily, we’ve found alternative materials that aren’t as harmful as asbestos, but still offer comparable insulation and resistance properties. A few examples include:

  • Amorphous silica fabrics.
    This fabric is used to replace asbestos in cloth products. It has similar corrosion, mould, and fire-resistant properties.

  • Polyurethane foam.
    Given the widespread use of asbestos in roofing materials, it’s a relief that a substitute has been developed. Polyurethane foam is used to insulate, seal cracks, and provide heat-resistance.

  • Cellulose fiber.
    This form of insulation is made from shredded newspaper—it’s a solution that’s safer for human health and our environment. Thanks to a chemical treatment, it can hold its own against moisture and fire.

Despite these suitable replacements, asbestos is still mined and used in places such as Russia, China, and Brazil.

How to Remove Asbestos

Asbestos isn’t the type of problem that you can smell. Even if you could, this wouldn’t be a good idea—you could inhale airborne fibers that might kill you in thirty years. But since asbestos isn’t something you can smell, taste, hear, or see in any way, you need to be aware of what to do if you suspect that it’s in your home. The consequences of asbestos exposure can be fatal.

When you have a gas leak, you call your local technician. But when you’re concerned about asbestos exposure, you need to call a qualified removal specialist. Our Winnipeg asbestos removal experts at Asbestos Pros can help you safely and thoroughly remove asbestos materials from your home and/or commercial property. Call us today for asbestos removal services; we’re licenced, bonded, and insured.