Exposure to asbestos has no limitations. It can happen nearly anywhere, mostly due to asbestos being used everywhere for decades.
Even your home — yes, your home — may be filled with this lethal substance. A task as simple as cleaning your roof shingles might seem safe. However, it could put you, your family and your neighbors in danger.
A recurrent column in a New York newspaper tackled the topic of power-washing asbestos roof shingles. The subject emerged from a reader question, and architect Monte Leeper offered his warning-filled advice.
“The condition you described is unsafe,” Leeper explained. “Asbestos shingles should not be power-washed.”
There are many other aspects of this topic to discuss. Power-washing roof shingles is one of the more common home-renovation projects that can expose people to asbestos. Since asbestos causes mesothelioma, homeowners should consider the health concerns before hiring a company or performing the task themselves.
Using Asbestos on Roof Shingles: Why It Happened
Asbestos ruled American industrialism and commercialism in the 20th century. It’s fire-resistance, durability and cheapness explain why so many companies applied it to roof shingles, wallboards, tiles, joint compounds, insulation, electrical wiring and more home components. It’s why construction work and mesothelioma are connected.
Asbestos roof shingles could prevent fires from starting, or spreading from a neighboring home or building. According to The Spruce website, American manufacturers of roofing material (like Johns-Mansville) offered at least one roofing shingle product that included asbestos cement. By the 1930s, asbestos was a staple of the roofing industry.
The rise of asbestos continued through the middle of the 20th century, when workers-rights activists and health experts began taking strong stances against asbestos. Research began showing the correlation between it and mesothelioma — among other diseases. The challenge was getting corporations to value their workers’ health, customers, and the general American public.
Getting companies to change their business practices was the most significant obstacle in phasing out asbestos. The substance remained a feature of new homes into the 1970s and 1980s, when public and medical outcry for alternatives finally defeated greedy corporate America’s apathy for protecting people from health hazards.
What You Shouldn’t Do About Your Asbestos Roof Shingles
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission says you should leave asbestos materials in good condition alone. Asbestos is dangerous when disturbed, meaning when the substance breaks from the material and floats in the air. Inhaling loose fibers is the first step in someone developing mesothelioma.
What are the ways you can disturb asbestos in roof shingles? Well, power-washing is surely one. You should avoid this method of cleaning your home’s shingles.
“It may seem harmless to spray something with water,” Leeper wrote, “but at high pressure it’s like hitting the surface with bullet force.”
That bullet force can disrupt asbestos roof shingles by damaging the material. While the substance may resurface as shingles dry out, it’s a moot point. Any exposure, for any amount of time, is dangerous.
What You Can Do About Asbestos Roof Shingles
Leeper explained that asbestos shingles must be cleaned “with a soft-bristle brush” similar to a car-cleaning brush. You can also use detergent, like dishwashing liquid, with the brush.
Leeper called this method “the safest way” to clean shingles. The dirt comes off but asbestos fibers have a significantly lower risk of being disturbed.
You should contact a testing company to take air samples inside and outside your home. We advise you do so before and after hiring someone to remove asbestos safely from your roof.
Sources & Author
- The Rise and Fall of Asbestos Shingles. The Spruce. Retrieved from: https://www.thespruce.com/rise-and-fall-of-asbestos-shingles-2902132. Accessed: 08/20/2020.
- Power-washing asbestos shingles. LI Herald. Retrieved from: https://www.liherald.com/stories/power-washing-asbestos-shingles,127197. Accessed: 08/20/2020.
- Asbestos In The Home. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Retrieved from: https://www.cpsc.gov/safety-education/safety-guides/home/asbestos-home. Accessed: 08/20/2020.