Resources for Patients and their Families

Roofers and Asbestos Exposure

Roofing, Asbetsos and Mesothelioma

History of the Roofing Trade

There are a select group of carpenters that are experts in the field of installing and repairing roofs. Most roofing professionals work for themselves or for small roofing companies but about a third are employed by larger construction firms. The two primary types of roofs that these professionals work on are sloped (pitched) and flat. A flat roof is most usually installed in commercial buildings. Sloped roofs are generally seen in homes and smaller buildings.

Roofers are Frequently Exposed to Asbestos on the Job

In the mid to late 1970's the link between mesothelioma and other pulmonary diseases and asbestos exposure became widely publicized. Prior to that, many types of insulation products and materials used in roofing were manufactured with asbestos because of its superior heat-resistant and fire-proof attributes. Materials such as AAA hip and ridge shingles , Externit asbestos shingles, Johns-Manville Blak-Kap duplex roofing, Careystone corrugated roofing, Flintcoat roofing and Fire-chex '325' shingles were frequently used in roofing projects.

Asbestos was also one of the strongest and most durable materials available for use in roofing applications and construction projects. Unfortunately, because one of the primary tasks that roofers performed was that of sawing and cutting asbestos laden tiles and shingles, they were frequently exposed to harmful asbestos dust and fibers without even knowing it. When placed in a situation of repairing or replacing an older roof they were also at risk of inhaling harmful asbestos because they had to rip off old materials to make way for the new. The majority of roofing materials made after the late 70's do not contain asbestos but because older roofs may still contain this substance every precaution must be taken when working on them.

Roofing materials often used by these roofing trades people included, shingles, mastic, roof putty, roofing felts, asphalt shingles, roofing asphalt, caulking putties, fire sealant and more. It is important to be aware that being exposed to any of these substances for extended periods of time can result in the development of one of the diseases described below.

Roofers at Risk to Develop Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer and Asbestosis

As mentioned above, the discovery of the link between asbestos exposure and pulmonary disease came to the fore in the 1970's. While this resulted in dramatic changes in the way insulation materials and fire-proof products were made, the damage was already done for many industrial and construction workers. In fact, the families of roofers were also sometimes placed at risk because their loved ones would bring asbestos fibers home on their clothes and shoes from the job. They were then placed at risk of inhaling them. The three diseases most often linked to asbestos exposure are as follows:


The only cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. It generally affects the lining around the lungs, heart or stomach. Pleural mesothelioma affects the lining of the lung and is diagnosed most frequently. Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the stomach lining and pericardial mesothelioma involves the lining around the heart.

Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer

Someone who smokes and is also exposed to asbestos has a significantly higher chance of developing lung cancer than smokers alone. Malignant tumors form in the lungs and block the airways making breathing difficult and painful.


Asbestosis is a pulmonary condition that is also only caused by exposure to asbestos. With this disease, scar tissue builds up in the lungs causing breathing problems.

Sometimes these diseases take a long time before showing physical symptoms. Lung cancer may take up to ten years from initial exposure to develop and mesothelioma cancer and asbestosis can take 30 or 40 years to manifest. This long latency period contributes to a poor overall prognosis for mesothelioma, as by the time a diagnosis is made, it is often too late to effectively treat the disease. No matter when it is discovered, there is no cure for mesothelioma.

Author: Linda Molinari

Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Linda Molinari
Mesothelioma Resource Guide

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