How to identify and safely remove asbestos roofing material

ACRM (asbestos containing roofing material) can present certain problems and concerns if discovered. However, for the most part simply having this material present on your roof does not equate to a danger.  The primary area of concern is when removing or replacing the covering.  It is very important this procedure be handled in the proper way with a licensed professional leading the project to ensure safe and legal disposal guidelines are met.

Identification of Asbestos Roofing Material


accessory asbestos asphalt roofing material

Asphalt Tar Paper – This is probably the most Prevalent ACM (Asbestos Containing Material) found when doing remodels for roofing projects.  Manufacturers from about 1940-mid 1970’s used asbestos in the this base material. Found as an underlayment for both pitched and flat roofing.  The real problem when you find this is how difficult it is to remove.  It is half melted into the wood substrate it is applied to over years of heat from the sun and often the decking ends up needing to be replaced as well.
Asphalt Asbestos Asphalt Shingles – Yes, roofing manufactures have admitted to using trace amounts of asbestos in the fiber mat from around 1964-1976. However, during extensive sampling of material from re-roof projects with tear offs the occurrence rate of find asbestos is less than 1%.  Even less when you consider that the regulatory agencies do not consider the product to be an ACM unless the content exceeds 1%. The risk here is quite low in fact it is very difficult to determine if the shingles contain asbestos roofing material without a lab test.

Mineral fiber asbestos roofing material

Mineral Fiber – Probably the easiest to recognize of possible Mesothelioma contributing materials is this product. It has a very distinct style as seen here.  Only dangerous when broken and the fiber dust gets into the air (usually during removal if proper care is not taken)  Composed primarily of a portland cement/mineral mixture an asbestos fiber was used in the mix.  Most of the exposure came in the factories producing the material in the first place.
Asbestos Slate Slate – The heaviest and hardest to dispose of ACM on the market. We’ve seen dozens of removal jobs done with NO detectable levels of asbestos whatsoever.  The asbestos fibers are contained inside the slate and cannot be released unless broken. However, many states still require a licensed abatement contract to handle this material in approved ways.  Thankfully – slate last for so long you don’t run into the need to replace it often.
corrugated panels containing asbestos roofing material
Corrugated Cement
– Our least favorite ACM to encounter.  These corrugated panels weren’t used very long.  Ranging in widths from 12″ to 48″ wide these “panels” seem to break easier. Identification here can usually be visually identified by the presence of small fibers (that is the asbestos roofing material) on the end grain or any broken section of the product.
Asbestos Cement Roofing mesothelioma Cement – Asbestos Cement Tiles can last over 50 years, but when it comes time to remove them care is needed.  They are individually installed so removing them without damage is a very tedious process.  If you can keep then intact the risk of exposure is rather low.  Unfortunately because they last so long – by the time a homeowner decides to replace them they are often quite brittle.

Safe Abatement Procedures for asbestos roofing material

***Warning – many jurisdictions require a trained professional to remove asbestos containing material, the information here is for research purposes only***

You may also need to hire a third party monitoring company to test the air on site during removal.  They will monitor the PPM (parts per million) in the air and stop work if it exceeds a safe level.

1) SUIT UP –  Anytime you are working with asbestos roofing material, Wear a Teflon suit and respirator mask while removing the material.

2) TARP OFF – The area 12 ft. around the perimeter should be tarped to stop any falling debris (the asbestosroofing material), Additionally caution tape is recommended to warn bystanders off the danger zone.

3)  WET DOWN the surface with water thoroughly- the moisture helps bind and contain any fibers present.

4) CAREFULLY REMOVE AND BAG – Slowly remove the material in section you can personally handle without dropping or breaking.  Bag all material immediately and seal with appropriate tape etc.  Lable bags as containing asbestos. ***special note, you must inform your disposal company the material being hauled contains asbestos.  Most have a significant up charge and require landfill approval prior to disposing of asbestos roofing material***

5) SWEEP – all remaining material needs to be wet down, swept up and bagged.   Avoid using a vacuum as the discharge air may contain hazardous fibers. Wrap up the rest in the tarp, tape and dispose of the tarp as well.

Health Concerns with Asbestos Containing Roofing Material:

Caution without fear is called for when handling this type of material. The most well stated concern is the cancer Mesothelioma when the word asbestos is brought up.  The be realistic the chances of this disease in relation to removing some asbestos roofing material is EXTREMELY LOW.  The short term side effects of shortness of breath and difficulty breathing are the most common problems.  However, it is interesting to note that there seems to be a delay in the onset of serious symptoms related to inhalation on ACM. There is also a strong link to asbestos exposure greatly increasing the risk of developing a serious condition in SMOKERS.  The combination here is a true concern.   Most serious cases are from unprotected workers who were actually involved in the production of asbestos roofing material with repeated exposure over many years.  Since the repercussions of inadequate protection in regards to handling asbestos containing roofing materials are so high please-