Asbestos Cement

In the USA, Asbestos was widely used in construction, and it can be found in a multitude of products. This superb mineral was mined for its heat resistant and fire-resistant properties and until the 1980s it was found in most homes in some form.

However, we now know just how potentially dangerous asbestos is and the breathing problems it can cause if you inhale its fibres. Indeed, in serious instances asbestos fibres can cause permanent scaring and lung cancer.

One particular asbestos product that saw great usage in the USA was asbestos cement. This could be found on roofs, wall cladding, gutters, and even cement flues and many homes could still contain it today. If you have concerns about your old property and think it may have asbestos products, we provide important info on asbestos cement below.

What is Asbestos Cement?

Cement is an incredibly tough and durable material that is widely used in construction for things like building foundations but also as construction material like sidings, cladding, and roof panels.

At the end of the 19th century, asbestos was added to a traditional mixture of cement, and this drastically improved its fire resistance and longevity. It was especially popular during WW2 because it meant the military could quickly and cheaply make structures for soldiers and vehicle storage.

After the war, it became a popular alternative to asphalt and other roofing materials and was typically made into corrugated or flat sheets.

Despite its excellent longevity and heat resistance, asbestos cement could still deteriorate and it was subject to weather erosion. This made it one of the more dangerous types of asbestos products and although it was mainly used externally, there was still a real health risk as the sheeting degraded over time.

How to Identify Asbestos Cement?

Most asbestos products are difficult to identify because they don’t look much different from the standard variants. However, asbestos cement is a little easier to identify – mainly because it was commonly made into corrugated sheets or pipes. It was often found in the following places:

• Cement roofs
• Wall cladding or sidings
• Downpipes and guttering
• Cement flues

The texture and color of the asbestos cement would look like regular cement; however, it would feature white mottling and the extend of this would vary depending on the percentage of asbestos used in the particular cement brand.

Moreover, in the US there was less variation in asbestos cement compared to European manufacturers so it should be easier to identify. Some companies that produced asbestos cement included Bondex International, GAF Corporation, Armstrong World Industries, and UNARCO Industries. As you will see below, the best way to identify asbestos cement is to use a testing kit.

When did They Stop Using Asbestos in Cement?

Asbestos was used worldwide from the late 1800s through to the 1980s and in many countries it is now outright banned due to it’s negative health effects. In the USA, all asbestos mines are now closed, but the mineral is not completely banned and we still export tonnes of the stuff annually.

However, the use of asbestos in construction is highly regulated and you should not find any traces of your home for certain if it was built after 1990.

We typically say 1990 because there was a period in the 1970s and 1980s where manufacturers were still allowed to sell their existing stocks of asbestos cement. As a result, realistically no property made after 1985 should contain asbestos cement, but 1990 gives an additional safeguard.

Also, the older your property is, the higher the chance that it contains asbestos cement or other asbestos products. For example, if it was built in the 1970s then there is a high likelihood that it does contain some trace of asbestos.

How to Deal With Asbestos Cement?

If you suspect that you have asbestos cement in your property then there are several things you can do including testing, removal, and maintenance/checks and we detail each one below.

Testing for Asbestos Cement

Unless you are experienced and can identify asbestos visually it may be difficult to identify asbestos cement in your home. Like many other products containing asbestos, the cement can look generic like regular cement.

The best way to make sure is to either hire a professional surveying company or use an asbestos home sampling kit. Our home testing kits are incredibly convenient, and anyone can use them without prior experience or expertise in asbestos.

All the equipment is provided including PPE for protection, disposal bags, instructions, and storage to place your samples in. This means that you can safely obtain samples from the suspected asbestos cement then send them to our labs for testing.

You will get the results promptly via email and then depending on the results, you can decide what action to take if needed.

Removing Asbestos Cement

So, you have your test results back and they show that the cement does indeed contain asbestos. You decide that you want it gone so what do you do now? Under no circumstance should you try and remove the asbestos cement yourself.

This could be highly dangerous, and you could put yourself and others at risk if you accidentally release asbestos fibres into the air. Removal is best left to professionals as they have the equipment, skills, and procedures to remove the cement while keeping you safe.

Cleaning and Maintenance of Asbestos Cement

Perhaps you feel that the cement is in a good enough condition, or relatively covered to mitigate any potential danger. Indeed, providing that it is not disturbed, and fibres cannot escape, it shouldn’t pose a health risk.

In this case, the best course of action is to monitor the cement and check regularly for signs of deterioration. You may want to clean it or paint it, but this is generally advised against as you could release asbestos fibres when working on it.

If you do want to paint your asbestos cement cladding or roof sheets then you must use a special sealant paint that will encapsulate the asbestos and stop any from escaping. Also, while doing the painting, always wear full PPE including gloves, goggles, and a filtered breathing mask.