How Were Asbestos and Cement Sheets Used?
The vast majority of asbestos cement sheets were used to make asbestos roofing, but it’s also found in siding and flooring materials. Asbestos cement products, including asbestos cement sheets and pipes, currently make up approximately 90% of the world’s asbestos production.
While asbestos cement sheet production in the U.S. ended in the 1980s, it remains legal to import the product from other countries.
Fibrous asbestos cement is more durable than drywall and easier to work with than concrete, and it has numerous applications in construction, including use as roofing and siding. Today in the U.S. the fibers in cement sheets are usually made of cellulose, a substance found in plants, but for nearly 80 years they were primarily made with asbestos.
These sheets were installed in homes, military bases, public buildings, industrial settings and job sites. Asbestos cement sheet was once synonymous with “fibrous cement sheet,” and it has also been generically called “AC sheet” and “fibro.”
U.S. companies stopped manufacturing these types of asbestos products, but asbestos cement sheets are still popular building materials in developing nations such as India and China. These products are dangerous because with age and damage they become friable, or easily crumbled, making them likely to release asbestos fibers.
Types of Asbestos Cement Sheets
Corrugated Asbestos Sheets
Fibrous cement created an easy and affordable alternative to corrugated metal panels, which offer little insulation and inevitably rust over time. Corrugated asbestos sheets were used in the roofing and siding of all types of buildings, especially in factories and on farms.
Because fibrous cement is much more water-resistant than drywall, flat sheets of asbestos cement found their way into the interiors of homes and businesses as walls and underlayment for flooring.
Also known as cement wallboard and asbestos millboard, asbestos cement boards were produced in sheets. They were used as a fireproofing material around boilers, heaters and wood stoves. Asbestos board was also used for automobile hood liners and as gaskets and washers in electrical applications.
Also called asbestos cement sheathing, “asbestos lumber” was not made out of wood at all. Instead, it was marketed as a superior alternative to wood. It was fireproof and electrically nonconductive, yet still soft enough to be worked like natural lumber. Asbestos lumber was used as a base for roofing and siding materials such as shingles and false brick facing.
Asbestos products are notoriously difficult to identify visually. The best approach is to have a suspicious product tested. Workers should assume that older corrugated roofs and flatsheets are likely to contain asbestos.
Companies Connected to Asbestos Roofing and Siding Sheets
American brands of asbestos cement sheets include:
|Celotex||Careycel Insulated Sheathing, Careystone Corrugated Asbestos Cement, Careystone Flat Asbestos Cement|
|Keasby & Mattison Company||Ambler Asbestos Corrugated Sheathing, Ambler Corrugated Roofing and Siding, Century Asbestos Corrugated Roofing|
|GAF Corporation||Panelstone Asbestos Cement Sheeting|
|National Gypsum Company||Gold Bond Corrugated Roofing, Gold Bond Cement Flatsheet|
|Johns Manville||Transite Corrugated Roofing and Siding|
Other companies that manufactured asbestos cement sheets include:
- Asbestone Corporation
- Asbestos Shingle Slate & Sheathing Co.
- Atlas Asbestos Company
- CertainTeed Corporation
- Durabla Manufacturing Company
- Flintkote Company
- Garlock, Inc.
- James Hardie Industries
- Philip Carey Manufacturing Corporation
- U.S. Gypsum
Diseases Asbestos Cement Sheets Can Cause
Manufacturing and working with asbestos cement sheets may lead to asbestos exposure. A 2022 research study found that 52.4% of samples from asbestos cement sheet factories across Vietnam contained asbestos dust in the air.
A 2009 study conducted in Thailand, where the use of asbestos cement sheets is common, found that roof fitting polishers endured the highest levels of asbestos exposure while working with asbestos cement sheets. Workers involved in the manufacturing of asbestos cement sheets also experienced high exposure handling bags of raw asbestos fiber.
Exposure to asbestos from cement sheets is known to cause asbestos-related diseases such as:
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Laryngeal cancer
- Benign pleural conditions, including pleural plaques and pleuritis
If you formerly worked with asbestos cement sheets you should monitor your health for signs of respiratory or gastrointestinal disease, including difficulty breathing and abdominal distension. Anyone diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease should seek the opinion of a specialist to access innovative treatments.
People at risk of exposure from asbestos sheets include:
- Construction workers
- Demolition crews
- Factory workers who manufactured the products
- Military personnel
- Do-it-yourself renovators
Compensation for Exposure to Asbestos Sheets
Many former tradesmen and factory workers, including asbestos cement sheet workers, have sued manufacturing companies over occupational asbestos exposure and received compensation for injuries.
Asbestos manufacturers are held liable in U.S. courts for the diseases their products cause because they were aware of the dangers and chose not to protect or warn workers and consumers. Decades of lawsuits have revealed internal company documents confirming these corporations knew they were putting employees and the public at risk.
- Former electrician Earl Gifford sued the National Gypsum Company in 1983 after he developed mesothelioma. From 1948 to 1952, Gifford worked alongside carpenters using Gold Bond cement flatsheet while converting Army barracks into apartment and dormitory buildings. A Texas magistrate awarded him $80,000.
- By 2001, these awards had gone from thousands to millions of dollars, as illustrated by Guadalupe Laguna’s lawsuit against his former employer Johns Manville. From 1968 to 1981, Laguna was a machine operator and pipe inspector at a factory in Stockton, California, that produced asbestos cement products. As compensation for the debilitating asbestosis he eventually developed, a San Francisco jury awarded him $2.3 million.
In addition to personal injury lawsuits and wrongful death lawsuits, anyone harmed by asbestos products may file claims seeking settlements from asbestos trust funds founded by companies that went bankrupt. As part of their bankruptcy reorganization plans, asbestos companies had to develop trust funds for victims of asbestos exposure.
For instance, a series of corporate mergers and sales left Armstrong World Industries responsible for all the asbestos exposure caused by Keasby & Mattison, including its asbestos cement sheets. Today claimants can seek compensation from the Armstrong World Industries Asbestos Trust, which has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in claims since 2006.
It is important to speak with a qualified mesothelioma attorney to learn about the lawsuits and trust funds your case may be eligible for. You may also qualify for other forms of compensation such as VA claims, treatment and travel grants, workers’ compensation and Social Security Disability Insurance.
Abatement and History of Asbestos Sheets
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers asbestos corrugated sheets to be a Category II, nonfriable material, which means it is dangerous and the material should be abated prior to demolition or renovation. Although designated nonfriable, the sheets can become friable with age and damage.
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. Damaged asbestos sheets, however, are subject to much stricter regulations.
Each piece of corrugated sheet or sheathing should be removed whole and kept wet to prevent asbestos dust from getting into the air, and all materials should be disposed of according to the laws of each state. As a general rule, the agency recommends all asbestos-containing materials be abated by licensed professionals.
By the 1980s, the rising tide of personal injury lawsuits over diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma compelled manufacturers to finally phase out the production of asbestos cement products in the United States. However, despite the grim reputation of asbestos in developed nations, a quick online search will reveal asbestos cement sheets are still widely available for sale in other parts of the world and remain legal to import into the U.S.
In the 1950s, the National Gypsum Company added corrugated asbestos roofing to its Gold Bond line of products, cementing the building material’s popularity with home builders, farmers and factory owners alike.
In 1907, Keasby & Mattison became one of the first companies to produce corrugated asbestos sheets. Workers pressed a mixture of cement, water and chrysotile asbestos 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. K&M named its brand of corrugated sheets after the town of Ambler, Pennsylvania, where its factory was located.
The company promoted Ambler roofing and siding’s “comparative lightness, ease of application, weather and fireproof qualities, pleasing appearance and permanence.” Early clients included the Draper Company in Massachusetts, the Shenango Furnace Company in Pennsylvania and the Bell Asbestos Mines in Canada. When a fire broke out in one of the Bell mills, the asbestos siding and roofing reportedly contained the blaze, backing up K&M’s claims.