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Roofers and other construction workers have long dealt with asbestos exposure at work. Some have developed mesothelioma or other asbestos diseases and have sued the responsible manufacturers. Today, many roofers still work with materials that contain asbestos.
How was asbestos used in roofing?
Many building materials contain asbestos because of its insulating and fire-resistant properties. Any building built before the 1970s, when the government began to regulate its use, may contain asbestos.
Construction product manufacturers used asbestos in many things, including roofing materials. These were used in both residential and commercial buildings. Roofing products containing asbestos included:
- cement shingles
- Plastic cement
- Roofing asphalt
- roofing felt
- Roof coatings
Some of the companies that have made and distributed these products include CertainTeed, Johns Manville, National Gypsum, Eternit, the Asbestos Shingle, Slate and Sheathing Company, and Raymark Industries.
Do roofing materials still contain asbestos?
While the government has restricted asbestos in many ways, it has not been banned. The US does not produce asbestos, but companies can import it from other companies. Roofing materials are among the most common products that are still important and used with asbestos.
Many buildings have older asbestos materials in the roof sections. These can be particularly dangerous as they can deteriorate over time. This can release asbestos fibers, putting roofers and residents or workers in the building at risk of exposure.
Who is at risk for asbestos and mesothelioma exposure?
Anyone who works in construction is at risk of exposure to asbestos. It is a special concern for roofers as they carry out renovation work. They remove old roofing materials to replace them. Cutting and tearing these materials can release asbestos fibers that roofers can inhale or ingest.
A study of construction worker deaths between 1988 and 1994 found that many are at disproportionately high risk of developing cancer. The study specifically named roofers at risk for cancer. The researchers concluded that asbestos contributed to this and that workers are at risk for mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Another study looked at a corrugated asbestos cement roof to determine how it fared over time and whether it presented any risks. Researchers found that the weathering of the 60-year-old roof exposed asbestos fibers. They also found asbestos in water runoff and moss growing on the roof. Workers tackling such a roof may be exposed to asbestos.
How does the government regulate asbestos in roofing?
Asbestos is not banned in the US, but laws protect workers and restrict its use. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates exposure to asbestos through a number of laws, such as: the clean air law and the Asbestos National emission standards for hazardous air pollutants (NESHAP).
NESHAP rules apply to building demolition and renovation to limit workers’ exposure to asbestos fibers. Unfortunately for roofers and other construction workers, a 1995 EPA clarification stated that most home demolitions and projects are exempt from the rule. This means residential roofers are not necessarily protected by this law.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also protects workers. In 1994, the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) petitioned OSHA to review asbestos standards in construction. The NRCA felt that existing rules did not go far enough to protect workers. The petition led to a number of changes:
- Before work begins, someone trained in asbestos identification should inspect the site and ensure that the materials are intact.
- Asbestos roofing that has been removed from a building should not fall to the ground. They must be lowered slowly or safely.
- The asbestos material cannot be sanded or sanded.
- If a power cutter is to be used on the roof, workers should use a HEPA dust collector to collect fibers.
Notable cases of asbestos and mesothelioma involving roofers
A case study published in 2021 described: a 73-year-old man with metastatic mesothelioma. During his career he worked as a roofer and was later diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. The cancer spread and metastasized to his scalp. Mesothelioma has a latency period of decades and many people like this man are diagnosed after years of exposure to asbestos in the workplace.
Many builders and roofers like this man want compensation for the damage caused by exposure. Stephen Jackson filed a lawsuit against several companies in 2017, including Henry Company. Henry made several asbestos-containing roofing materials that Jackson used during his career as a roofer.
Jackson died of mesothelioma, but his widow continued the legal battle. Henry tried to get an injunction and dismiss the case, but a New York judge denied the request. The judge found she had enough evidence to make a case.
How can I get compensation for mesothelioma?
If you have worked as a roofer and now have an asbestos-related illness, such as mesothelioma, you have options to recover damages. It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly which companies are negligent in exposure. An experienced mesothelioma lawyer can be of great help.
They can trace your previous exposure. There are probably several companies that have made roofing materials with asbestos that you can contact. If a company has gone bankrupt, it may have a trust that you can access for compensation.
For those companies that are still operating, you may be able to file a lawsuit. A lawyer can explain your options and use their experience and networks to figure out who to sue. They can estimate the damage you are likely to recover and walk you through the entire process.
Roofers have been at risk of exposure to asbestos in the past and are still at risk. If you’ve worked in this industry, talk to your doctor about cancer screening. If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma or a related disease, contact a lawyer.
Page edited by patient advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been an advocate for mesothelioma patients for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma gatherings. This keeps him abreast of the latest treatments, clinical trials and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.