Asbestos in Tar Paper Exposures and Risks

Tar paper, generally used in construction, was a heavy-duty form of paper infused with tar. The tar ensured that the paper was waterproof. However, it also contained a high quantity of asbestos. Asbestos in tar paper put workers at risk of developing mesothelioma.

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Asbestos in Tar Paper Explained

Between 1950-1970, asbestos was commonly used in the production of tar paper. The naturally occurring mineral was added to ensure the paper’s durability, including protection against heat and water. Unfortunately, asbestos is friable once it becomes dry and brittle, which naturally happens over time.

Tar paper can become fragile after several years in use, making it more brittle. As tar paper breaks down, it can release asbestos fibers and put people in danger of breathing in these tiny, needle-like fibers.

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Asbestos in Tar Paper and Roof Repairs

Tar paper is one of the most common asbestos-containing materials found when renovating older houses. It’s also one of the most difficult to remove when a roof needs replacing. Roof repairs involving asbestos-containing tar paper cause asbestos exposure to roofers.

Often used as an underlay in roofs, tar paper can melt into the wood substrate after years of heating and sunlight. This can cause problems as the wood becomes too sticky and must be replaced. It can be an expensive and dangerous job due to the amount of excess dust involved, and should only be carried out by an asbestos specialist to minimize exposure.

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Asbestos exposure has led to thousands of mesothelioma diagnoses. If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, the Mesothelioma Justice Guide will help you understand your rights and know the next steps.

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Who Was Exposed to Asbestos in Tar Paper?

Constructions workers—particularly roofers—were at the highest risk of coming into contact with asbestos in tar paper. Roofers were responsible for cutting and sawing the tar paper, which would result in a lot of excess dust. This dust would be likely to contain tiny particles of asbestos, and once inhaled could be detrimental to health.

Roofers may also be required to work on older roofs that needed repairing or replacing. The deteriorating materials would be brittle and dry, which again could release friable asbestos particles.

Other groups of people who are at risk of coming into contact with asbestos fibers from exposure to tar paper include:

  • People working directly with asbestos tar paper
  • Manufacturers of asbestos tar paper
  • Demolition workers
  • Owners of older properties
  • Store assistants who handled tar paper

However, it wasn’t only the workers themselves or people within older buildings that would be exposed to this dangerous substance. Roofers who did not wear overalls (or took their overalls home to clean) would carry the particles home on their clothing, hair and shoes, which could put family members at risk.

Risks of Asbestos in Tar Paper in Older Buildings

One case at a high school in the Maritimes found asbestos-containing tar in the roof. Over time the tar had become brittle, and as a result, tiny particles of asbestos were falling through the ceiling and into the school library. The tar was found to contain 5% asbestos, which is above the OSHA regulations of 1%. Therefore, specialists were called to remove the substance.

Access Asbestos Trust Funds

Compensation for treatment, loss of income and other damages are available through Asbestos Trust Funds. Mesothelioma patients exposed to asbestos may qualify.

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Health Risks of Asbestos in Tar Paper

Countless products made between the 1950s and 1970s contained asbestos, but many were not seen as harmful until the carcinogenic properties of the material were discovered. Over time, asbestos becomes brittle and breaks apart. It is at this point that asbestos fibers become airborne and are easily inhaled, or carried on clothing.

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Inhaled Asbestos Can Cause Mesothelioma

Once the particles enter the lungs, they attach themselves to the lung lining. Over time, asbestos fibers can irritate surrounding healthy tissues, triggering cancerous cell mutations called mesothelioma.

People who worked with tar paper on roofing or other construction projects may be at risk of developing the disease. Mesothelioma symptoms can take 10-50 years to develop, so there’s a chance that people who worked with asbestos-containing tar paper before the 1980s, or those who work on the restoration and demolition of older buildings, may still be at risk of being diagnosed today.

Seeking Justice for Mesothelioma

Many people developed mesothelioma as a result of working with products like asbestos-containing tar paper. If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma after worked in an industry—such as construction—where you feel you have come into contact with asbestos, you may be eligible for financial compensation.

Contact our Justice Support Team for more information on how asbestos occupations and work sites may have caused your exposure. Call us at (888) 360-4215 or request our FREE Mesothelioma Justice Guide for more in-depth information on mesothelioma legal options.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Stephanie KiddWritten by:


Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

View 4 Sources
  1. Asbestos in Roofing Materials. Retrieved from: Accessed on October 7, 2018.
  2. Roofing Materials Containing Asbestos. Retrieved from: Accessed on October 7, 2018.
  3. Why Does Roofing Felt Lead to Flat Roof Asbestos Problems?. Retrieved from: Accessed on October 7, 2018.
  4. How to identify and safely remove asbestos roofing material. Retrieved from: Accessed on October 7, 2018.
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