The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the United States used 30 million tons of asbestos between 1900 and 1980. Concrete guttering was among its uses and is still found in buildings today. Due to the health hazards associated with this material, it’s natural for people to be concerned about whether asbestos is present in their gutters.
Concrete gutters can contain asbestos if they are part of the original fixtures of the building and were constructed before 1980. Asbestos was frequently used in the construction industry to strengthen materials, including concrete gutters until recognized as a health hazard in the 1970s.
This article will discuss related topics, including the reasoning behind the choice for asbestos in concrete gutters, identifying when it’s present, and evaluating the risk that it may pose. I’ll also advise on removing it and the potential health risks it can pose if you’re exposed.
Why Was Asbestos Used in Concrete Guttering?
The primary purpose of your gutters is to direct water and other debris away from the main structure of your building. Redirecting water away from the building ensures that the roof, walls, and foundations are protected from water damage and soil erosion.
Water can cause severe damage to the overall structure of a building. As a result of this, careful consideration in material choice is necessary.
Asbestos was used in concrete guttering to improve its durability and resistance to heat. It can typically make up to 10-40% of the lining of your gutters. It’s also waterproof, requires little maintenance, and can last for many years.
What Is Asbestos?
Before we get into anything else, let’s learn a little more about asbestos.
Asbestos is a silicate mineral found in natural deposits across the world. It’s known for being a good conductor of electricity and highly resistant to heat. These qualities made the mineral popular in the construction industry until it was discovered that it caused severe health implications.
Related article: Why Does Concrete Conduct Electricity?
Asbestos was widely used in construction until significant findings in the 60s indicated that the mineral can cause cancer and other severe health conditions. Since then, asbestos has been banned in 67 countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia.
Although the government heavily regulates its use and disposal, asbestos is still legal in the United States.
How To Identify Asbestos in Guttering
Visually identifying asbestos in your guttering is a challenging task. Since manufacturers most commonly mixed the material into cement lining, it can be hard to spot any visual clues.
The best ways to find out whether your guttering contains asbestos are:
Assess the Age of Your Gutters
As mentioned previously, any home built before the 1980s is likely to contain asbestos within the concrete gutters.
It’s worth researching how old your gutters are to see if anyone has replaced them since the construction of your building. Any guttering installed after 1980 likely doesn’t contain asbestos.
Look for Manufacturer Codes on the Materials
Search your guttering for any manufacturer codes or markings. Researching this information may give you some idea of whether the manufacturer used asbestos in the materials.
Alternatively, if you can find out the manufacturer’s name, you may be able to contact them directly for confirmation.
Hire an Asbestos Inspector
If you plan to reconstruct or repair any part of your building, it’ll need to be inspected by a trained professional.
Asbestos inspectors can take samples of your guttering and test for asbestos. They’ll also be able to assess your gutters for damage and provide recommendations for repair or removal.
It would be best if you didn’t try to take the sample of your gutters yourself. Asbestos inspectors are trained to handle the materials safely without disturbing any potential asbestos fibers.
Hiring a professional ensures your safety and protects people from disturbing and inhaling the fibers in the future.
Are Concrete Gutters Dangerous if They Contain Asbestos?
So you’ve found out that your gutters contain asbestos. Here’s what you need to know.
Concrete gutters are dangerous if they contain asbestos, especially if they’re in poor condition or unpainted. The poor state of the guttering increases the likelihood of exposure to asbestos fibers. Undamaged and undisturbed asbestos guttering is unlikely to be dangerous if routinely maintained.
If you’ve identified that your gutters contain asbestos, here’s what to do:
- Leave them alone. All undamaged materials containing asbestos should be left alone. Building owners should avoid any unnecessary construction work in that area.
- Limit access. Prevent the entry to anybody that doesn’t need to be in that area, particularly children.
- Hire professionals to carry out work. If your gutters are damaged, don’t attempt to repair them yourself. A qualified team will come in with hazmat suits and disposal containers to safely remove the materials.
Repair or Removal of Asbestos Materials
If there’s damage to your concrete gutters, an asbestos inspector may recommend that a contractor repairs them.
The two types of repairs to asbestos materials are:
- Sealing: Materials are covered with a sealant that binds the asbestos fibers together to prevent them from being released.
- Covering: Materials are covered up in a metal or timber framework and then with polythene to form an airtight casing.
Sealing is the most common method to repair asbestos guttering as the sealant liquid is fast-acting and waterproof.
Suppose the damage to your gutters is beyond repair, or you’re taking out extensive renovation works to your building. In that case, it’ll be necessary to remove any asbestos materials before the work starts. Removal of asbestos gutters requires an asbestos contractor.
Related article: Can Concrete Be Recycled?
What To Expect From an Asbestos Contractor
Here are all the things that you should expect from your asbestos contractor:
- A contract. A detailed work plan will identify precisely what the contractor will be doing on-site. The contract should also mention an in-depth clean-up procedure.
- Restricted access to the worksite. The contractor will block off the site as a hazardous area. The workers will not grant access to anyone until the clean-up procedure is complete.
- Disposal of materials. It’s the contractor’s responsibility to dispose of leftover asbestos materials, equipment used, and clothing worn during the work.
- A completed checklist. Once the work is over, you should receive written assurance that the contractor and removal workers followed all safety precautions during the process.
The regulations for removing asbestos-containing materials can differ depending on where you live. If you’re not confident that your contractor is following the correct procedure, you can check with your local government office.
Does Inhaling Asbestos Fibers Cause Health Issues?
Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause serious health issues, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Although these health issues are usually limited to prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers, significant exposure can lead to inflammation of the lungs and difficulty breathing.
If you think you’ve been exposed to asbestos, you must consult your doctor. They’ll be able to discuss how you came to be exposed and help you decide whether further tests or treatments are required.
Related article: Can Concrete Poisoning Kill You?
If your building was constructed between 1900 and 1980, your concrete gutters likely contain asbestos. Asbestos was commonly used in the cement lining of guttering, during this time, because of:
- Improved durability to materials
- Little maintenance required
- High resistance to heat
Discovering asbestos is contained in concrete gutters isn’t the end of the world. If you suspect that the materials are damaged, you can hire qualified professionals to inspect, repair, or remove them.
The most important thing to remember with asbestos is not to attempt to resolve issues yourself. Save your health and let qualified professionals deal with it.