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Advantages & Disadvantages of Asbestos Cement

Julie Bawden-Davis

Asbestos cement, made of asbestos fibers, hydraulic cement and water, was used in construction projects for many decades. Though it is durable, it's been shown that it poses a health risk if asbestos cement begins to break down and the asbestos fibers become airborne.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Asbestos Cement

Made from asbestos fibers, hydraulic cement and water, asbestos cement is a highly durable product that was widely used in construction materials for decades. But there are some advantages and disadvantages to this building material.

About Asbestos Cement

Asbestos cement was invented more than a century ago in 1899 by Ludwig Hatschek, an Austrian industrialist. He combined cement with asbestos, a mineral fiber found in rock and soil that can be used to create a woolly substance. This resulted in a highly durable, weatherproof and heat-resistant material.

Soon after asbestos cement was invented, the construction industry began using the material in a wide variety of building products. These products were made until the mid-1970s to early 1980s when asbestos was found to cause lung disease, including lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. Today, cellulose, a safer plant material, is sometimes used instead of asbestos in building materials.

Asbestos Cement Products

For decades, asbestos cement was used in a wide variety of residential construction products. The cement is still used in some materials today. These include roof shingles, corrugated roofing panels, roof coatings, roofing felt, home siding and pipeline wrap.

Products containing asbestos cement tend to be durable and have a long life. Such products also tend to be easier to handle than pure cement products because asbestos is lightweight. Asbestos is also economically priced.

On the downside, products containing asbestos pose a health risk. Health problems can occur if asbestos cement products begin to deteriorate and the asbestos fibers become airborne. Construction personnel working with deteriorating concrete asbestos must wear safety gear when dismantling or stabilizing the product so that they avoid contracting asbestos-related diseases.

Banned Asbestos Cement Products

Due to their potential for causing health risks, certain asbestos cement products have been banned in the United States. Many of the products banned under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) were not asbestos cement, but paper products. These include corrugated paper, rollboard, flooring felt, asbestos piping and spray-on asbestos products.

Existing Asbestos Cement

Considering that asbestos was used in construction for eight decades, many buildings still have asbestos cement features. If the materials are disrupted and the asbestos cement becomes damaged, the asbestos can become airborne and cause lung disease. For that reason, it’s recommended that you leave asbestos cement building materials in your home alone, whenever possible.

If the area containing asbestos cement must be disturbed, it’s imperative that the removal or repair of the materials is done by a professional trained to do asbestos removal.