I'm moving to a new building in Toronto, and received this letter:

In 2005, the Ontario government introduced a new regulation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act regulating the management of asbestos in construction projects and building and repair operations, Ontario Regulation 278/05 – Asbestos on Construction Projects and in Building and Repair Operations (“O. Reg. 278/05”). This regulation updated requirements with respect to asbestos-containing materials (ACM) in Ontario, including requirements for the responsible management of ACMs in buildings. On November 1, 2007, certain new requirements become applicable.

To ensure compliance with the requirements, [apartment building] retained a well-known environmental consulting firm ("Great West Life") to provide advice and conduct asbestos-containing materials (“ACM”) surveys. The purpose of the surveys are to identify any ACM and, if identified, manage it in accordance with O. Reg. 278/05.

ACMs were commonly used in building construction, particularly prior to 1986, because of the unique characteristics of asbestos, including strength, heat resistance and chemical resistance. We are advised by our environmental consulting firm that it is only ACMs that are in poor condition, “friable” (i.e. material that can be crumbled, pulverized or powdered), mishandled or mismanaged that represent a potential exposure risk. Accordingly, the aim of a formal identification and management program is to ensure that existing ACM that are left in place are not allowed to deteriorate or be handled in a way that will create that risk. This letter will service as notification that ACM may be present in your suite.

The property is inspected annually to determine if any ACM requires removal. If removal is required, qualified technicians are brought in to complete the removal. It is also important that you seek and obtain [apartment building]’s approval if you intend to undertake or arrange any maintenance or renovation work that may disturb materials such as floor tiles and plaster. We also require that you provide this information to any other person in possession of, or occupying any portion of your unit.

I don't know how strict the regulations are in Ontario, and they couldn't tell me where exactly and in what quantity the asbestos was present in the building. It's a building built in the 70's to my knowledge, and it's a high rise apartment (around 25 floors).

My question is, is this a cause for concern, or are the regulations/compliance in Ontario good enough that I can rest assured the asbestos is sealed and not a danger to health? Or is it just a legal cover, and there's still a risk present that it's not inspected or maintained properly (or it's common to ignore/violate this regulation in a place like Toronto)?

I'd really like to move into this place, but if there's more than 1% chance that there might be exposed asbestos in the unit, that is too high a risk to take in my opinion.

closed as primarily opinion-based by isherwood, Daniel Griscom, ThreePhaseEel, Tyson, mmathis May 31 '18 at 15:38

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Hello, and welcome to Stack Exchange. Unfortunately, this will probably be closed as too opinion-based; obviously many people would be fine living in that building, while others wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. – Daniel Griscom May 29 '18 at 18:19
  • You are totally fine, there is no risk and current fears around Asbestos are totally blown over the top. This comment is opinion-based. – Jeffrey May 29 '18 at 18:20
  • @DanielGriscom, could you explain what do you mean by opinion-based? My intention is to get a likelihood of the presence of exposed asbestos in buildings/units like these. – yusif May 29 '18 at 18:58
  • @Jeffrey, could you elaborate on it being blown over the top? Isn't it true that inhaling it poses a serious risk of lung cancer, or asbestosis? – yusif May 29 '18 at 18:58
  • 2
    It's opinion-based because the answer depends entirely on one's aversion to risk. There's no way to quantify said risk without data from a large mesothelioma study, and even then it's up to the individual. – isherwood May 29 '18 at 20:24

It's certainly concerning if they can't tell you where the asbestos is given that they conducted a survey. If they're unwilling to disclose it you're not going to be able to make an educated decision. That being said, asbestos is only harmful if you breathe in the fibers. That means that plaster is safe since the fibers are trapped in the plaster itself and covered with paint. The same idea applies to tiles, which generally don't abrade enough to become airborne.

There's a chance it isn't even in that suite. Asbestos was a popular covering for pipes and boilers at one point. Around here some of them were simply sprayed over with something to encapsulate it. Again, without the survey there's no way to tell.

For whatever it's worth, asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral which is fairly common. That's not to say it isn't dangerous, but you do take a non-zero risk of being exposed by going outdoors. At much lower concentrations and much less frequency than in buildings, but you still can't ever be sure to have had a 0% chance of exposure.

I'd suggest you see about getting a copy of the survey. Maybe put in a call to the city and see if they're obligated to give you one.

  • Thanks! I think the reason the person I contacted couldn't tell me is because she's in charge of leasing, and either didn't bother or didn't know who to contact given it was done by an outside company. I know that if they did follow the rules diligently then it would probably be safe. But for example, if it was exposed in the ceiling, and all they did to contain it was to cover with paint - that seems like a weak protection since if paint chips away the asbestos containing material would be exposed again. – yusif May 30 '18 at 13:28

Asbestos is only a problem is airborne. Encapsulating it in paint is a common practice. Mere flaking will typically not cause the asbestos to become airborne, pulverizing, drilling or cutting it will. The letter is essentially telling you that they are complying with the requirement and if you were to disturb any of the surfaces that you should contact them to determine if that could expose you to any risk. Of course if you want zero risk of asbestos you should move into a new home. That place will however probably have something even more worrisome.

  • Anything specific in mind? – yusif May 31 '18 at 21:55
  • Asbestos was considered a wonder material at one time. Who knows what we are using today that may be considered hazardous in the future. Fiberglass comes to mind. – user76730 May 31 '18 at 23:21
  • Interesting - I would have hoped/assumed any material introduced would go through some health testing before it's mainstream – yusif Jun 1 '18 at 14:24

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