Refractory cement is a mixture used to cast forms. It consists of insulating and binding materials that are resistant to both fire and high temperatures, such as a kiln, forge, furnace or fireplace. Prior to 1980, the most widely used insulating material in this compound was asbestos. Asbestos is strong, durable, and resistant to both fire and heat. These qualities alone made it a perfect substance for refractory cement, but the fact that it was also cheap made its use even more prevalent.
Because refractory cement often came as a dry mixture to which one would add water, the potential of asbestos-laden dust filling the air was quite great. Even opening a container in which this compound was distributed could throw the carcinogen into the air. If this dust was inhaled, the individual would be exposed to asbestos. Its fibers could then find their way into the lining that surrounds the lungs, heart or abdomen and create serious health problems. The mere presence of asbestos could pose a heath risk in the form of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases to the exposed individual. Though prolonged exposure to asbestos is generally linked to mesothelioma and similar illnesses, there have been cases where people have had limited contact with the fibers and still contracted asbestos-related diseases.
Once the refractory cement is set, it should pose no health risk to individuals using the product, as the asbestos is secured within the binding material. As long as the refractory cement does not become friable, the asbestos will not become airborne. Nonetheless, if any manner of deterioration takes place, it may force these cancer causing particles into the air. When this occurs, certain safety measures should be taken, and a professional should be contacted for its removal.
In 1977, the Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) put in place a ban on the use of asbestos in most industrial and construction processes. This should have stopped the application of asbestos, but since the ban only involved the manufacturing of new materials, stock that was currently in the marketplace was sold and used well into the 1980s. There’s no telling if the refractory cement in a home built during this time actually contains asbestos unless an expert is brought in. As with any product containing asbestos, refractory cement that is still intact and in good condition possesses no immediate danger to the homeowner.