Have you seen homes with asbestos shingle siding that looks like this?
It is often present in neighborhoods built in the 1920s into early 1980s. A number of construction product manufacturers found that by adding asbestos to their cement, a long-lasting, fire-resistant, attractive product could be made. One product was asbestos-cement shingles. Product manufacturers including Johns Manville, Keasby & Mattison and others mixed the asbestos mineral into their cement, pressed it into sheets, and were able to create a variety of looks, finishes, and sizes for asbestos shingle siding.
Asbestos turns from miracle to deadly product
When the many benefits of asbestos were first discovered, it was touted as a miracle. But, after many decades, as people handling it became sick, medical literature began to establish that breathing asbestos dust posed a very real human health hazard.
By 1972, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) placed limits on the levels of asbestos a worker could be exposed to in a given day. In the following years, asbestos was phased out of many products including siding. However, there is still no outright ban on asbestos in the United States.
Asbestos can cause a number of diseases – lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lining of the lung. Many homes, schools, government buildings, manufacturing facilities, and businesses built with asbestos products remain in use. This means knowing how to deal with the possible presence of asbestos extremely important.
How to handle asbestos shingle siding
Asbestos shingle siding is one of the main products do-it-yourself (DIY) home renovators of older homes may find. Because it is widely known that asbestos is dangerous, they may decide to tear it down. That would be a very bad decision. Asbestos is not harmful if undisturbed. However, since this is a fibrous mineral, it is when the tiny fibers are released into the air that trouble begins. An asbestos shingle that has no cracks, breaks, crumbles, punctures, disintegration, etc. is rarely a problem. If the shingle is damaged, stop work and hire an accredited asbestos abatement professional. There is no safe level of exposure and handling siding debris or tearing it off can expose you to harmful levels of asbestos. Some shingles may appear similar to those with asbestos but are solely cement. The abatement contractor can determine composition, but it is not discernible for a person without the right equipment. Don’t take a chance.
The problem with asbestos
These invisible fibers are easily inhaled. They can also attach to clothing, furniture, carpets, and air ducts leading to inhalation by the person who worked with the mineral. They can also be inhaled by anyone who comes in contact with that person – such as family members. The danger is very real and also very sinister as it may be decades – even 50 years – before a diagnosis of mesothelioma is made.
While it may be tempting to pull down a couple of damaged shingles from an otherwise secure wall, it is not worth the risk. As said previously, there is no safe exposure level to asbestos fibers. Bring in an expert abatement professional who knows what can be done safely with asbestos siding and protect your family and yourself.