Whether you’re a carpenter or a do-it-yourself enthusiast around the house, you need to know how to protect yourself from asbestos exposure. If you’re working on an older building, you may not know that the material can be found in insulation products, vinyl flooring and other items.
We know all about these hidden dangers at Kazan Law. We once represented a mesothelioma patient who worked hard during the 1970s, buying “fixer-upper” type houses and renovating them with his own hands. What he didn’t know was that many of these properties were tainted with asbestos-containing products.
Roofing materials can be especially worrisome because they’re among the many products that, to this day, are still allowed to include asbestos in the manufacturing process.
What items contain asbestos?
For hundreds of years, people have used asbestos because of its physical properties, which make it strong and resistant to heat and friction. This led to the use of asbestos in the manufacturing of several products used in construction. Roofing materials seemed like a natural fit, as a roof protects a building’s occupants from the elements and, in some cases, retards the spread of a dangerous fire. Buildings that were erected before the 1980s may have roofs with asbestos-tainted asphalt shingles, cement shingles, sealants, flashing and underlayment.
There are several roofing products today that are still allowed to contain asbestos, including felt, coating and cement shingles.
Why is asbestos still allowed?
For more than 70 years, scientists have linked asbestos to several deadly diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma. Given those facts, it’s natural for one to wonder: If asbestos is so dangerous, why is it still allowed in the manufacturing process of certain products?
The answer is quite complex, but basically, the asbestos lobby has fought tooth and nail against government efforts to curb use of the material. For example, during the 1970s, federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency began forbidding the use of asbestos in certain types of insulation. The big crackdown, though, came in 1989, when the EPA proposed what was essentially an all-out ban on asbestos use. However, the asbestos industry took this law to court and successfully reversed most of its power.
Today, asbestos is still banned from products such as flooring felt and commercial paper, as well as any new uses. However, it’s still allowed in the manufacturing of many products that have always used it, including roofing materials.
Protection is possible during projects
The most definitive way to tell whether a roofing item contains asbestos is to read the original product label. If that’s unavailable, the determination of asbestos roof content, as well as its removal, are best left to a specially trained professional.
When someone is working on a roof that may contain asbestos, there are several measures that can help minimize exposure to the material. First, it’s important to keep all unnecessary personnel out of the area. Also, workers need to be sure they’re wearing respirators with P100 cartridge filters, because ordinary dust masks won’t help. Single-use disposable clothing that can be discarded at the end of the day is also advisable.
Plastic drop cloths around the house will help collect debris. Any materials that contain asbestos should be kept wet at all times. If anything has to be removed from the asbestos roof, it’s important to work slowly in order to minimize the amount of breaking and airborne mineral fibers. Materials that need to be thrown away should be lowered carefully to the ground rather than dropped down.
Once the waste is collected, it should be sealed in leak-tight bags, drums or 6-mil polyethylene sheeting.
At the end of the workday, clothes should be discarded and never reused. Both the exposed skin and the tools need to be washed carefully. Also, workers need to be careful not to track any dust or dirt with them into the house on which they’re working.