Cement and Asbestos Exposure
The entire American construction industry was guilty of adding asbestos fibers into their cement mixtures. The main reason for using asbestos additives was higher strength and lighter overall weight.
Asbestos was also a proven insulator and fire resistor. And from an economic standpoint, asbestos was readily available, problem-free to work with and cheap to buy.
But adding asbestos to an inert material like cement powder presented serious health hazards.
To their defense, only a few parties in the asbestos supply business knew how dangerous long-term asbestos exposure would be. These greedy characters hid the warning and made cement products even though people would die.
Asbestos in Cement-Based Products
Asbestos was widely used in cement-based products for seven decades until federal regulators like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) took steps to ban asbestos-containing materials (ACMS).
By then, cement mixes across America contained tons of asbestos products.
Some of the standard cement ACMs were:
- Powder for masonry mortar and binding cement.
- Foundation and building support cement.
- Cement roofing, flooring and siding materials.
- Pressure pipe and drainage products.
- Gutters and downspouts.
- Fire control bricks, chimney flues, and heat shields.
- Asbestos-cement sheets.
- Insulation and acoustic inhibitors.
Most cement additives were chrysotile asbestos or what’s called “white asbestos”. It’s also known as “good asbestos” because it’s nowhere near as dangerous as amphibole asbestos that was also used as a cement additive.
The difference in the asbestos types is how the two different asbestos fibers are constructed. Microscopically, chrysotile asbestos has a soft, serpentine appearance where amphibole asbestos looks crystalline with sharp shards as edges.
Neither type of asbestos used in cement works has high health hazards as long as it’s set, stable and undisturbed. The exposure risk comes when ACMs are actively moved or when they become old and friable.
When asbestos begins to break down and crumble, releasing clouds of tiny asbestos particles into the ambient atmosphere.
Every worker was exposed to asbestos fibers when adding them to cement products. The highest risk was when asbestos was dry.
Most workers had no idea how dangerous long-term asbestos exposure was to their health. Few ever took precautions by wearing HEPA-filtered respirators and protective clothing.
Some occupations working with cement ACMs were:
- Bricklayers and masons
- Foundation contractors
- Renovation and demolition specialists
- Siding, roofing and flooring installers
- Plumbers, pipe-fitters and boilermakers
- Shipyard and dockworkers