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Cement and Asbestos Exposure

For centuries, cement was used in a wide variety of construction applications. But from the 1930s until the early 1980s, many cement mixtures contained dangerous amounts of asbestos.

Fact-Checked and Updated by: Jenna Tozzi, RN

Last updated:

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

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Cement Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma

Anyone exposed to asbestos fibers in cement-based products was at high-risk of developing mesothelioma. This disease is a deadly cancer type caused only by exposure to airborne asbestos fibers.

The amount of asbestos and duration of exposure has a compounding effect. The more asbestos exposure a worker had and the longer they were exposed significantly increased the odds of developing mesothelioma.

Inhaled airborne asbestos fibers attach to the lung lining or mesothelium. Sharp amphibole asbestos fibers are worse for impaling the mesothelium than softer chrysotile particles.

Once asbestos fibers are in the lungs, neither asbestos fiber expels or decomposes. They stay in the mesothelium for life. This process creates scar tissue that eventually turns to cancerous tumors over many years.

Compensation for Mesothelioma Victims

Tragically, most mesothelioma victims are unaware they are ticking health time bombs. There are few early symptoms of mesothelioma, and the effects don’t present until this disease is well advanced. By then, mesothelioma is incurable.

The only recourse is legal action against negligent asbestos producers and suppliers.

If you’ve developed mesothelioma from cement-based asbestos particles or any workplace asbestos exposure, you’re entitled to compensation.

Funds are available for your medical expenses, lost income, and personal injury punitive damages. Families can apply for members with mesothelioma. They can also file lawsuits in wrongful death cases.

Jenna TozziWritten by:

Director of Patient Advocacy

Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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