Unlike other applications of asbestos, asbestos cement is not banned in the United States. In 1999, the EPA was forced to clarify which asbestos products were banned for safety after losing a blanket asbestos ban in court. The EPA failed to demonstrate certain building materials containing asbestos were any more dangerous than other materials, when proper precautions are taken. There are many advantages to using asbestos cement in construction projects, but also significant disadvantage to consider.
The mineral fibres of asbestos mixed into cement add longevity to the product. For example, asbestos cement roof shingles last on average 50 to 60 years. Other construction materials, such as wood and plastic, are not expected to last nearly as long. When adding asbestos to cement, the fibres are technically a type of stone.
Cement is a fairly inexpensive construction material, as it is just the binder. The real cost comes in the additive material known to increase the strength of the concrete, called the "pozzolan." Asbestos minerals are naturally occurring and less expensive in comparison to other cement additives. This leads to a cheaper construction piece, like a wall sheet or pipe, but with the same durability.
Fire is a serious threat to any building, residential or commercial. Asbestos fibres are mineral, resistant to fire and even chemical damage. Asbestos doesn't burn, so using asbestos cement in areas prone to fire exposure, such as around electrical components or in commercial buildings with high heat sources, is ideal.
While asbestos cement should not allow asbestos fibres to become airborne, it can occur with careless construction methods and without proper maintenance. Long-term exposure to asbestos fibres is linked to causing lung cancer and mesothelioma. Asbestos fibres are microscopic, so someone may not even be aware the fibres are in the air. Any asbestos cement showing signs of wear needs immediate attention.
High Repair Costs
While the durability is good, eventually even asbestos cement must be repaired or replaced. While not impossible, great care and special equipment is needed to work on asbestos-containing materials to prevent the fibres from releasing. For example, asbestos materials should remain wet or removed intact. Workers should use masks or other breathing filters while working. Therefore, the savings on asbestos cement at construction could easily become negated down the road from repair and replacement costs.