Why Asbestos was Banned in Roof Repair and Construction

asbestos roof repair and construction

The use of asbestos in roof repair and construction started way back in the 1800s. Several characteristics of asbestos made its use prevalent in manufacturing such as heat resistant, durable, fire-proof and flexible. Because of these features, asbestos was found in almost every product when possible.

The extensive use of asbestos in construction started during the industrial revolution. Most of the asbestos mined then were used for construction materials. The fire-retardant quality of asbestos made it very popular among manufacturers such that it was found in almost all construction products, including roofing materials.

Asbestos as Roofing Material

The use of asbestos for roofing started in the 1920s until the 1980s. Nearly 80% of materials used on structures built before 1981 contained asbestos. Asbestos is found in roofs, floors, furnaces, appliances, windows caulking and plumbing. Identifying the presence of asbestos is difficult by physical appearance alone. The best way is to have samples tested by a laboratory.

Roofing materials with asbestos contents, such as asbestos cement roofing, had a life expectancy of 30 to 50 years. Since roofs are required to be fire-resistant and insulated from heat, asbestos was incorporated into roofing products.

Harmful Effects on Health

Unfortunately, asbestos was subsequently found to have harmful effects in the health of those exposed to it. In early 1900s, a rise in cases of respiratory diseases was noted from people living in towns associated with asbestos mining. In the 1940s, the disease mesothelioma was formally associated with asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is an illness almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos. Lung cancer is another illness also caused by asbestos exposure.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), direct occupational exposure to asbestos is the primary cause of asbestos-related illnesses, which number around 107,000 workers annually. Indirect or secondhand exposures are responsible too. The victims are families of workers who unintentionally brought asbestos home. The WHO reports that the mortality rate from asbestos poisoning is around 43,000 annually.

Workers in at least 75 different jobs in the US were exposed to asbestos. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, workers in the construction industry were hardest hit.

Latency period is around 10 to 50 years between exposure and manifestation of mesothelioma. In the US alone, 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are recorded every year. Australia, Japan and Western Europe combined produce 10,000 cases annually.

CPSC and EPA Banned Asbestos

In 1977, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned specific products with asbestos. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned most products containing asbestos. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals in New Orleans reversed the EPA ruling in 1991.

Because of the negative publicity associated with asbestos, manufacturers looked for suitable alternatives for the harmful product. The most common are polyurethane silica fabric, cellulose fiber, flour fibers and thermoset plastic flour.