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asbestos cement super six roof

How safe is an Asbestos roof?

Don’t stress if you have an asbestos roof over your head

There are hundreds of thousands of asbestos cement roofs in Sydney – and even more sources of asbestos in wall and eaves linings and other not so obvious products.

Whilst there is no doubt that asbestos fibres are not good for your health, is it safe to have an asbestos cement roof over your house?

The pragmatic answer to this question is simply this: Your neighbour(s) may have asbestos roofs; you may live near an industrial area where there are many hectares of asbestos roofs and there may be other asbestos products that we do not know about that is close by. The way that asbestos fibres can affect your health – it does not really matter if you actually live under an asbestos roof or not.

The difference in the level of exposure whether you have an asbestos roof or not is virtually ZERO.

The trick is not to try to disturb or do anything with the asbestos roof yourself. Then you are as safe as everyone else in Sydney!

Are asbestos roofs as terrifying as some make it out to be?

On Easter Sunday, 2012, the Sydney Morning Herald had a leading story titled “Asbestos, the outlawed fibre with a licence to kill”. There were also several support stories about the ‘terrors’ of asbestos.

So, how close were the media to the truth about asbestos – especially the type of asbestos that a Sydney roofer like myself would come across almost daily?

We are talking about bonded asbestos roofing. These come in the corrugated profile. A large profile called “Super Six” and a smaller corrugated profile similar to the size of metal corrugated roof sheeting.

Our health authorities banned the use of asbestos on roofs because they deemed it to be dangerous to our health.

The authorities also banned smoking – but took the soft option and people can still buy cigarettes and smoke in private and open areas. Smoking has been proven to be dangerous to our health, but we continue to tolerate it.

Vehicle exhausts will also shorten our lifespans – but we cannot do without our cars.

There are hundreds of thousands of asbestos roofs in Sydney. So exactly how dangerous is an asbestos roof if you are living underneath one in Sydney?

The Asbestos diseases foundation of Australia says:

‘…Following are the main diseases caused due asbestos exposure.

         — Asbestosis
         — Lung Cancer
         — Mesothelioma’

Large doses of exposure to asbestos fibres is required for someone to get asbestosis. So this is the disease of the miners and factory workers who worked with the asbestos – not the normal Sydneysider.

Lung cancer has so many possible causes that it may be difficult to identify cases where asbestos fibres are the main culprits.

…and that leaves mesothelioma. This is an asbestos cancer – although there are some other minor causes also.

In November 2010, a report by the NSW Ombudsman outlined the case for the safe handling of asbestos. It compared NSW road fatalities to Mesothelioma – nearly two road deaths for every asbestos death. That’s right, double the people die on our NSW roads than from mesothelioma.

Maybe it should have looked at the other statistic from the Cancer Institute of NSW. In 2007, mesothelioma accounted for only 0.6% of new cancer cases.

Bonded asbestos building materials are such common items in a typical home or workplace. It would be safe to say that virtually every Sydney sider has been exposed in some manner.

But you are 15 times more likely to get skin cancer from sun exposure than from getting mesothelioma from bonded asbestos exposure.

The conclusion?

Sydney siders are extremely unlikely to get mesothelioma from living near or under a bonded asbestos roof.

The workers who work with bonded asbestos roofs (mainly in removal and disposal) have a slightly higher risk – and that is why all the rules and regulations are written for them.

What if you still don’t like an asbestos roof?

Even armed with all this asbestos knowledge, I must admit that I do not like bonded asbestos roofs. Maybe because they are brittle to walk on. Mostly, it is in the mind – and nothing to do with reality.

For those who want to get rid of their asbestos roof, I recommend replacing it with a colorbond metal roof. We used to remove the bonded asbestos ourselves, but I find it easier to use a specialist asbestos removal service to do all that. They will remove the bonded asbestos sheeting, vacuum away any asbestos fragments and spray the roof cavity with PVA glue.

We will then install a colorbond roof with insulation blanket to provide a much more energy efficient roof.

The video below shows one of our typical asbestos replacement roofing jobs:

And where does the bonded asbestos go?

…To an approved bonded asbestos cement tip – at quite an expensive cost.

I have been to an asbestos disposal tip, and what they do with the bonded asbestos material there may hurt your feelings – so I won’t go there….

10 responses to “FAQ – Is my asbestos roof safe and what can I do about it?”

  1. Jeff says:

    Thanks for your informative video. I run a gutter vacuuming business in Melbourne. I occasionally get asked to clean the gutters of properties with these roofs. I imagine the gutters are full of asbestos fibers. I worked as a teenager for a comapny in Sydney that removed these roofs from factories. Luckily only for 3-4 months and being a smoker have not been affected by this. Would like to get your opinion on the danger of working with the debris in gutters. I would approach the job by wetting everything down first and sucking out the debris wet. Still is it legal to dump the debris in a garbage bin in a plastic bag? Your good advice would be appreciated. Regards
    Jeff

  2. Jack Yuen says:

    Hi Jeff,
    I am no asbestos expert.
    I just find as much information as I can – so that I can separate fact from fiction.
    As far as I can figure, wet fibres cannot fly. So, your technique of wetting down – then wet vacuuming is as good a technique as you can use.
    On the subject of disposal (this is Sydney and not Melbourne), I will tell you a true story….

    …Several years ago, I booked an asbestos roof sheeting disposal at an approved disposal tip in Sydney. It had to be done in a small window of time in the afternoon – I was told.
    Upon arrival, I got weighed and was directed to the general household disposal area of the tip.
    An excavator had just dug a trench in the fill area that was created by the morning truckloads of household garbage. I was directed to tip my load into the trench. I assume that they tipped the next mornings garbage over the same trench ( … little wonder that asbestos tipping was only done in the afternoons).

    …Recently, I took another load to the same disposal tip. I was directed to the same area again – except this time, there was no trench. “tip it any where you like…” was the general direction from the dozer operator.

    To answer your disposal question… If you get caught dumping asbestos debris (contained in a plastic bag) in a garbage bin – you would be on the WRONG side of the law.
    But the law can be an ass if you know how the asbestos is treated at the ‘asbestos tip’….

    All the best.

    Jack

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi,
    The first floor of my house has large portion of it covered by asbestos-cement – it has been so for a few decades now. The roof was in excellent condition for long but over the past few months there were a few incidents of tree branches falling on the roof during heavy winds, causing small portions of the roof on the edges to break off. Since these breakages have caused the cross-section of the sheet to be exposed directly to air (although only on the roof edge), I am concerned about asbestos fibers polluting the air gradually. Asbestos is not strictly banned in my country (I am not a resident of Australia) and there are hardly any certified service agencies who can dismantle asbestos safely from residential areas. I would like to know if there are insulation or abatement procedures that can safely shield off the asbestos-cement roof from the air and can be carried out even by regular house construction and repair agencies. Are there any special types of paints, roofing adhesives or plastering materials that can be used as to safely and effectively shield off asbestos in the roof from air? Any advice in this regard would be highly appreciated!

  4. Jack Yuen says:

    Hi,
    To understand asbestos cement products, imagine that it is just like concrete….. but instead of stone and sand held together by the cement, it is asbestos fibres.
    If you break a lump of concrete, bits of sand, cement and maybe stone will ‘peel’ off from the broken edge. The broken edge virtually immediately becomes stable. No fresh sand, cement or stones ‘break free’.

    The same with an asbestos cement product. Once broken, the free edge becomes stable again. There is no need to do anything else to cover this edge.

    Hope this helps.

    Jack

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hi Jack,
    Thanks for your reply! While it is a bit reassuring to know that the broken edge doesn’t continuously leak out hazardous fibers, I am still worried about the small amount of these fibers that may leach out slowly over a long period of time. After much search, I managed to find a certified agency that has professionals specializing in asbestos removal in my country – they do not offer roof shielding services, only roof removal.

    However, due to various non-financial constraints, I prefer to not remove the asbestos-cement roof at present but get it shielded if that can be done safely, even if it means some extra cost. Where can I find information on reliable shielding procedures for asbestos-cement roofs? Will coating the roof with some high quality paint or roof sealing material once a few years be a good safeguard against asbestos fiber leakage? Are there any international agencies or agencies of repute (like something under the aegis of WHO) that provides guidelines or disseminates information in this regard?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hi,
    Will coating an asbestos-cement roof with a high-quality paint or sealing material like silicone paint help minimize the release of asbestos fibers into air? If so, what type of paint should be applied? Will covering the interior of the roof with wallpaper be a good idea? Are there any accredited international agencies (like those affiliated to WHO or following WHO norms) that provide guidelines or disseminate information in this regard?

    P.S.: Sorry for the flurry of questions. Since asbestos ban is not enforced in my country of residence, I am unable to find any local agencies that can help in this regard

  7. Jack Yuen says:

    Hi,

    Sorry, I am not a paint expert.
    There are commercial paints that can be applied over asbestos roofs.
    for example: http://www.ferret.com.au/c/lidoran-roofing/infrared-heat-reflective-roof-coating-available-from-lidoran-roofing-n820572

    Jack

  8. Mr Yuen,Thanks for such useful technical information.
    How about drinking water from a roofing made with asbestos tiles?Would the asbestos fibres get absorbed into the blood and end up in the lungs leading to asbestosis lung disease and eventually mesothelioma?

  9. Jack Yuen says:

    Hi Dr,
    I am not a medical specialist – I can say that I know more about roofs than medicine.
    From my “layman” perspective, fibres are breathed into the lungs.
    If fibres go in via the mouth, then it goes into a different system (and hopefully gets expelled because it has no nutritional value to the body). There should be little chance of any fibres migrating from the digestive system to the respiratory system.
    I am not aware of any history of medical problems associated with asbestos fibres in the digestive system.

    Jack

  10. Jamie says:

    Asbestos workers have a higher incidence of bladder cancer. Presumably from ingesting the fibres. So I’d avoid it.

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