Nova Scotia

Asbestos is everywhere and you'd better get used to it, inspector says

The idea that we could somehow get rid of all the asbestos present in residential buildings in Nova Scotia is unrealistic, says the man behind an asbestos-testing company in Halifax. But there's no need to panic.

Removing all asbestos would mean opening up a 'very expensive can of worms,' Kim Strong says

This former Shannon Park building in Dartmouth, N.S., is sealed to keep in asbestos dust. (Robert Short/CBC)

It's unrealistic to think all the asbestos present in residential buildings in Halifax could be removed, but there's no need to panic, says the man behind a company that tests for the toxic material.

Kim Strong, owner of Design1 Indoor Environmental Inspections, told the CBC's Information Morning almost any building that was constructed prior to 1980 in Nova Scotia would likely contain some asbestos. 

"If you went to the centre of the south end of Halifax and drew a one kilometre radius around where you are, probably 80 per cent of the buildings ... would have asbestos in them," Strong said.

"So, it's still pretty common."

Riskier sources have largely disappeared

Strong said the "nastier materials" that pose a greater risk to human health, such as sprayed-on fireproofing and insulation on pipes or boilers, have largely been removed.

The asbestos that remains is typically found in plaster, drywall filler, floor tiles and seamless flooring, and those things don't need to be removed until there's a need, he said.

Paint is rubbing off ceiling tiles in the Halifax Armoury, which are made from asbestos. (Supplied to CBC)

Don't remove it unless you have to

Strong said it's best to leave asbestos alone until renovations or repairs are required.

"Asbestos is only really a hazard to you if you breathe the fibres," he said, adding that exposing those materials "for no good reason, actually poses more risk than leaving it in place."

The idea that we should try and remove all asbestos from residential properties, would be "a very expensive can of worms," Strong said.

Crews had to gut the Dennis Building in Halifax, built in the 1860s, to remove mould and asbestos. (CBC)

Need better records

The province of Nova Scotia suggests owners keep an inventory of where asbestos is located in their buildings, however, that kind of documentation isn't mandatory. And Strong said it isn't done as often as it should be.

Even those who do take the step to check for asbestos, he said, don't often provide contractors with that information.

"That document is never around when anybody's working," Strong said.

He said he thinks building owners should be required to know exactly where asbestos is on their properties — and to make that information public.

With files from the CBC's Information Morning