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What You Need to Know About Asbestos Shingles

For many years, roofing shingles made of hydraulic cement and asbestos were the gold standard. Sturdy and fireproof, asbestos shingles soared in popularity beginning in the early 1900s until health risks associated with material became widely publicized, resulting in a nationwide ban of the product in 1989.

Here’s what you need to know about the material and how to determine if your home still has asbestos roofing or siding shingles.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a natural mineral that is often used in industrial and building materials. It was mined for its insulating and fire-resistant properties, making it commonplace in many homes throughout the world. While asbestos mining is no longer legal in the United States, we continue to import the product from Russia, Kazakhstan, and China.

Asbestos in Shingles

Ludwig Hatscheck began manufacturing asbestos products in Upper Austria in 1893. It was there were the industrious Czech perfected a sturdy new material that combined asbestos with cement. Fireproof and corrosion-resistant, the fibrous cement, Hatscheck determined, could be used in a variety of building materials. He called it “Eternit,” taking its name from the Latin phrase “aetemitas,” meaning everlasting.

As a roofing shingle, Eternit helped prevent one of the biggest threats to homeowners at the time. Homes then were little more than kindling boxes. A single spark could burn entire communities to the ground in a flash. The promise of a near fireproof roof, boasting a 30-year lifespan, had obvious appeal.

By 1911, asbestos shingles had dominated the market and Hatscheck’s factory had ramped up production to keep up with demand. Eternit shingles were being exported to Africa, Asia, and South America, turning the Austrian business into an international concern.

By the 1920s, American roofing manufacturers began mixing pigments into asbestos shingles. No longer limited to shades of grey, the asbestos shingle soared in popularity and the product became a mainstay of home construction.

The Health Risks Realized

By the late 1920s, the connection between asbestos production and illness such as lung cancer, pulmonary disease, and mesothelioma was practically undeniable. American factory workers were stricken with chronic inflammation of the lungs. The dusty conditions inside the manufacturing plants were largely to blame.

The H.W. Johns Manville Company, which had manufactured asbestos into not only roofing but insulation and acoustical products, was one of several manufacturers to turn a blind eye to these occupational hazards. Accusations of coverups could follow these companies for decades, resulting in billions of dollars in settlements that continue to be paid even today.

Reports of asbestos-related illnesses weren’t limited to factory workers. Those in proximity to a factory were also at risk.

The 1950s introduced a safer alternative. The asphalt shingle became the preferred roofing choice. While asbestos-based roofing shingles and siding were still available, their popularity had waned drastically well before the federal ban of the product in 1989.

Do You Have Asbestos in Your Home?

Only a trained professional can tell for sure if your shingles contain asbestos. However, asbestos roofing was so prevalent between 1920 and 1986 that if your home was built or had a roof installed during this time, asbestos shingles could be very likely. Asbestos can be found in HVAC ducting, acoustic ceiling texture, piping, spray-on fireproofing, and floor and ceiling tiles.


Asbestos in residences is usually harmless if left undisturbed. If you think you have asbestos in your home, contact professionals before undergoing any DIY or renovation work on your home. The team at Burns Environmental Services is here to help you with your asbestos removal projects. Contact us online or at (800) 577-4009 to schedule an appointment today.

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