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Asbestos exposure goes with the territory when you work as a roofer.
And, because you work around asbestos, you run a solid risk of developing the cancer mesothelioma.
Roofing and other construction materials made between the 1900s and 1990s usually had asbestos added to them. These included:
Asbestos products were once extremely common in roofing.
Not until the government branded asbestos products a hazard and began cracking down on their use did the roofing industry turn to safer substitutes. The move away from asbestos started in the 1980s.
Asbestos shingles are made up of a blend of that mineral plus Portland cement and asphalt. Depending on the manufacturer and model, the asbestos content can range from a small amount to as much as one-third of the shingle.
Shingles, underlayment and flashing are not the only sources of asbestos exposure when you’re working a job.
Pull off a roof and you’ll then often find an attic bursting with asbestos insulation and other asbestos-containing materials.
Depending on the condition of the material, mere hand pressure can be enough. What then happens is very tiny fibers of asbestos come loose and get into the air.
The closer you are to the release, the greater the chances you’ll inhale some of the asbestos.
That’s when the danger really begins.
The fibers of asbestos find their way inside your lungs. For them, it’s a one-way trip. They go in but do not exit.
Twenty years goes by. Maybe 30, 40 or more. That entire time, the asbestos inside you is working hard to transform the healthy cells lining your lungs into tumor masses.
Mesothelioma is cancer, one of the most aggressive known to medical science.
Roofer asbestos safety is a big concern for government, labor unions and trade groups.
The collective-bargaining group that represents roofers is the 22,000 members-strong United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers. This union offers training in asbestos safety and abatement.
Meanwhile, one state’s Department of Health — Minnesota — offers the following advice if you work with asbestos roofing materials.
When starting your work: