Years Produced: 1907 – Present
An asbestos sheet is a type of construction material that is made from asbestos cement. It was used in residential, commercial and industrial construction applications. Asbestos sheet, including the Gold Bond brand, was typically used as roofing or siding.
The asbestos mixed into the cement provided durability, insulation and fireproofing. Companies that produced these products capitalized on its ability to prevent the spread of fire and make residences and buildings safer.
These products were commonly manufactured with asbestos fibers in the United States from the early 1900s to the 1980s.
The introduction of asbestos sheets was made possible after 1899 when Ludwig Hatschek invented the process for creating asbestos cement. One of the first companies to produce these corrugated sheets was Keasby & Mattison (K&M). Its factory in Ambler, Pennsylvania, produced commercial-grade sheets as early as 1907, under Hatschek’s reissued U.S. patent.
The mixture of cement, water and chrysotile asbestos was layered and then pressed between metallic plates with heavy pressure to squeeze out excess water and create a corrugated pattern, which appears as a series of parallel ridges that add strength to the cement sheets. By mixing asbestos with cement, the sheets could protect structures from moisture, as well as provide insulation from heat and fire. Before these sheets were utilized in construction, fires could easily spread through the roof, walls and joints in the siding, engulfing a structure in flames within a short period of time.
In fact, Keasby & Mattison claimed its Ambler brand of asbestos corrugated sheets was superior roofing and siding material because of “comparative lightness, ease of application, weather and fireproof qualities, pleasing appearance and permanence.” Early clients of K&M were the Draper Company in Massachusetts, the Shenango Furnace Company in Pennsylvania and the Bell Asbestos Mines in Canada. After a fire broke out in one of the Bell mills, and the fire was reportedly contained by the asbestos siding and roofing and did not spread to the other buildings.
In the coming years, several more companies began manufacturing corrugated sheets and sheathing, including Johns Manville, Philip Carey and James Hardie in Australia. In the 1950s, National Gypsum Company introduced its brand of asbestos sheet, Gold Bond. The Gold Bond brand of products began in 1925 and became a popular product line for National Gypsum Company.
These sheets may pose a health hazard if the products are damaged during installation, demolition or renovation. These products were known to contain 20 to 45 percent asbestos. If the sheet is power washed, sanded, sawed, drilled, removed or otherwise disturbed, the fibers can become airborne and pose a serious health risk. Heat, water, weathering and aging may also weaken these sheets, allowing fibers imbedded in the cement to become airborne.
Asbestos sheets were also used for ceilings and walls in several buildings, including military barracks and buildings, placing military servicemen and women at risk. Workers in the construction industry are at the greatest risk of being exposed to the fibers during the installation, removal, renovation or demolition of homes or buildings.
High levels of toxic dust are often present in the factories and plants where these products are manufactured. As a result, factory workers are at extremely high risk of developing a related disease.
Asbestos sheets are not friable. However, if sheets are broken or damaged they can become friable.
Fast Fact: Australia – where asbestos sheet was called "Fibro"-was one of the largest users of asbestos corrugated roofing, sheathing and flatsheets until it was banned in 1989.
In Guadalupe Laguna and Amalia Laguna v. Calaveras Asbestos, Ltd., a San Francisco jury awarded a former Johns – Manville employee $2.3 million. Guadalupe Laguna worked for 14 years at a Johns-Manville plant in Stockton, California that manufactured Transite, an asbestos cement used in creating corrugated roofing. He was diagnosed with end-stage asbestosis and asbestos-pleural disease.
Mr. Laguna worked at the plant from 1968 until 1981, where he was a machine operator and pipe inspector. Dry asbestos was mixed into several blends to manufacture Transite products like pipes and corrugated roofing.
One of the largest manufacturers of asbestos sheets was the National Gypsum Company. The company’s Gold Bond brand cement sheet exposed thousands of individuals. In Gifford v. National Gypsum Company, Earl Gifford claimed that National Gypsum Company’s Gold Bond brand cement flatsheet was responsible for his mesothelioma. In 1983, a Texas magistrate awarded the plaintiff $80,000.
Mr. Gifford worked as an electrician for several years. While employed from 1948 to 1952 with Fayette Electric Company, he wired hundreds of apartments and dorms in Kentucky and Ohio that were converted from Army barracks. He worked around carpenters that used Gold Bond cement flatsheet in the walls and ceilings.
Several companies that produced asbestos sheets have been in involved in thousands of lawsuits. Companies like Keasby & Mattison, GAF Corporation and National Gypsum Company have set up trusts with millions of dollars to settle injury claims.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers asbestos corrugated sheet to be a Category II, non-friable material. The material should be abated prior to demolition or renovation. If the material is not damaged, it may be removed by driving the nails through the sheet or cutting off the nail or screw heads.
Each piece of corrugated sheet or sheathing should be removed whole. If pieces of this material are broken during removal, the asbestos becomes friable. If the material becomes friable, a licensed and registered asbestos contractor must handle the material.
When disposing of this material, the sheets and sheathing should be kept wet to avoid the emission of any fibers. All materials should be disposed of according to the laws of each state. As a general rule, the EPA recommends that all asbestos-containing materials be abated by licensed professionals.
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