Short Answer:

Roofing cement in your building may contain asbestos. Asbestos is incredibly resistant to fire and other elements, so it was used in construction materials of all kinds until the mid-1980s. This includes roofing materials like shingles and roofing cement. 

Unless you or a previous owner specifically removed asbestos from your home or other building, it may contain asbestos, including in the roofing cement. 

Asbestos can cause health problems like asbestosis and even cancers like mesothelioma, especially over time as asbestos fibers become airborne. When in doubt, the safest thing to do is have a professional asbestos test conducted. If asbestos is found in the building, it is wise to have asbestos removed by a licensed, experienced asbestos abatement company.

Asbestos is still with us.

There is still asbestos roofing cement and other asbestos materials found in building roofs of all kinds.

Because asbestos is “incorruptible” as its name suggests in Latin, the substance has been used in many different industries over the years. It is found in rocks and soil and can be easily extracted for commercial use. Before it was banned in the U.S. in 1989, asbestos was sought-after for its durability, pliability and fire resistance properties. Today, while it is no longer used, those who were working in certain industries prior to the ban are still at risk of developing asbestos-related health conditions. The top ten occupations most at risk for exposure are firefighters, hairdressers, construction workers, dentists and other healthcare workers, auto mechanics, railroad employees, farmers, HVAC technicians, factory workers and those in shipbuilding.

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Asbestos in Roofing

When most people think of asbestos, images of construction projects come to mind. This is because it has been well-publicized as being used in many different building materials, especially in insulation, ceilings and flooring. Companies like Texaco Inc., also known as The Texas Star, which was founded in 1902 as a subsidiary of Chevron, used asbestos to reinforce concrete, coat piping, as a seal in gaskets and in insulation. It was preferred due to its ability to hold up in all kinds of conditions—it was sturdy and reliable.

One of the most common uses of asbestos in construction was in roofing materials.

Asbestos was very popular in the construction industry for a number of years and one trade that used these hazardous fibers was roofing. Roofing is a tedious, multi-step process. First, an underlayment, a form of adhesive, is placed on the roof in order to prevent water from entering the structure. After this is carefully placed, paper is applied to reinforce the underlayment. This is laid out in small sections and stapled onto the roof to further prevent any leaks. 

After the paper (also referred to as “felt paper” or “tar paper”) is secured onto the surface, starter shingles are positioned to ensure, even further, that the roof is water resistant. Then the shingles are placed, overlapping each other, and fastened into place with a nail gun. Flashing is applied next around any parts of the building that touch the roof (i.e., windows or a chimney), and a cement sealant is used as needed to fill in any gaps.

Asbestos shingles, underlayment paper and cement were used to fireproof roofs for decades.

Before it was banned, roofing contractors used asbestos in the production of many of these materials because of its strength, durability and fireproof qualities. Roofs have to, of course, be able to withstand all sorts of weather fluctuations, storms, outdoor pests, mold and mildew, etc. Roofing shingles on houses built before the 1980s could very well have asbestos in them, especially if they’re asphalt shingles. Asbestos was also used in roofing paper and cement mainly because it was fire-resistant. Even if a neighbor launches a firework that lands on the home, it wouldn’t catch fire!

Asbestos use declined, but many buildings still contain asbestos.

However, asbestos use in roofing decreased in popularity greatly in the 1970s after it was discovered to be a carcinogen. Then, in 1989, the U.S. officially banned it and alternative roofing supplies needed to be manufactured. Experts believe that homes built between 1963 and 1970 bear the greatest risk of having asbestos-ladened roofs. Luckily, this was a relatively short span of time.

Many roofing products that once contained asbestos are now being made with natural and synthetic fibers, including a spray called polyurethane foam. Polyurethane foam controls moisture and temperature much the same as asbestos did back in the day. Vegetable/cellulose fibers, including softwood kraft pulp, bamboo, sisal, coir, rattan shavings and tobacco stalks, among others, are also being used to replace asbestos-containing cement. Plastic, clay, metal, brick, galvanized plasterboard, and fiberglass are common alternative products in the roofing process.

Does Your Roof Contain Asbestos?

The only way to determine for certain that shingles have traces of asbestos in them is to send a sample to a lab, which can be very costly. Because asbestos only becomes dangerous when an individual is directly exposed to the fibers and these fibers are inhaled, it is often recommended that a concerned homeowner or business owner simply re-shingle over the existing roof. This will essentially lock in the fibers, keeping them contained so they don’t become airborne. 

Self-help is not usually a safe way to deal with asbestos.

However, it is worth noting that construction companies warn not to simply paint over any asbestos-containing surfaces because this is never effective. If you’ve purchased buckets of paint in hopes that applying them to the shingles will do the trick, it’s time to return them!

Anyone who is considering renovating or demoing an older building or home should take cautionary measures to avoid potential exposure. It is always best to work with an asbestos remediation company should there be any concern that asbestos is present. Today, companies like Texaco continue to face a number of asbestos-related lawsuits across the country. Exposure to the fibers should not be taken lightly.

AsbestosClaims.Law is your comprehensive resource for all things asbestos. We hope this information helps you.

If you believe that your home was contaminated with asbestos, you could be entitled to significant compensation—money you could use to cover the costs of asbestos removal services, pay for medical treatment, and preemptively protect your physical well-being. 

In addition to legal claims, veterans disability, social security and employment protection like workers compensation, FELA and The Jones Act for maritime workers, there are asbestos trusts that have been set up to compensate those harmed by asbestos without having to file a lawsuit.

If you have any additional questions or concerns related to asbestos, including testing for exposure or how to file a claim, please get in touch by email at [email protected], or call or text us at (833) 4-ASBESTOS (427-2378) or (206) 455-9190.

Kottek, M. & Yuen, M. L. Public health risks from asbestos cement roofing. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 65(3). doi: 10.1002/ajim.23321.
Steinmetz, Jr, W R. A common-sense approach to asbestos in roofing. Retrieved 28 7 2022 from