Asbestos Roofing Felts

Did you know there is a protective layer between the roof deck and roofing shingles on most roofs in the United States? This protective layer goes by many names, including roofing felt paper, felt underlayment, roofing tar paper or roll roofing. For decades, roofing felts contained asbestos, which put the general public and workers alike at serious risk of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma.

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For many years, organizations such as the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) have included roofing felt in their roofing and waterproofing recommendations. It is also a requirement under many building codes.

This underlayment offers an integral layer of protection to a roof – one that keeps moisture out while still allowing the product to breathe. It protects the roof and keeps it in better shape for longer periods of time. But from the 1940s to the 1980s, asbestos was used in roofing felt to help “build up” roofing systems for commercial and industrial buildings.

Composed of a high percentage of chrysotile asbestos, these sheets were manufactured on conventional papermaking machines and then saturated with tar or asphalt. Asbestos was used in the roofing felt because of its stability and rot-proofing capabilities. It also allowed a slight movement of the felt to accommodate expansion/contraction movements of the building structures without cracking the felt. The strength and durability of asbestos, paired with its high moisture, heat and fire resistance made it seem desirable for roofing.

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Asbestos Roofing Felt Health Risks

While the asbestos in roofing felts was bound in the felt by a coating, the hazardous fibers could easily be released during installation as they were commonly cut and trimmed to fit individual roof surfaces. Asbestos exposure, as the public now knows, is extremely dangerous and can increase risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Breathing in any amount of the debris could have potentially fatal consequences decades later.

Cleanup and removal of the leftover debris therefore created a huge risk for asbestos exposure among workers who had no idea they were being exposed to a harmful toxin. Removal could be even more hazardous. Though built up roofs constructed with asbestos roofing felts generally remained stable and working for 20 or more years, the tear out processes often required chopping or sawing the existing roof membrane into pieces to be pried or scraped from the roof deck — the textbook scenario for dispersing deadly asbestos fibers into the air.

Manufacturers Known for Using Asbestos Roofing Felts

Johns Manville’s brand-name roofing felt, called Flexstone, was marketed for its numerous benefits, such as its smooth surface and fireproof qualities. The following corporations have been documented as using asbestos in their roofing felts.

  • Bird & Son, Inc.
  • Celotex
  • CertainTeed
  • Ehret Magnesia Manufacturing Co.
  • GAF
  • H.H. Robertson
  • Johns Manville
  • Philip Carey Manufacturing Co.
  • Ruberoid
  • USG
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Simmons Hanly Conroy Helps Those Exposed to Asbestos Roofing Felt

Our mesothelioma law firm has recovered billions in verdicts and settlements on behalf of thousands of clients throughout the United States. For more information about asbestos exposure, mesothelioma and how Simmons Hanly Conroy can help you or your family get the justice you deserve, Contact Us today.

Simmons Support Team
Legal Reviewer Nick AngelidesReviewed by:Nicholas J. Angelides

Partner, Simmons Hanly Conroy

  • Fact-Checked
  • Legal Reviewer

Attorney Nick Angelides is a partner at Simmons Hanly Conroy. He joined the firm in 2003, and currently helps direct the legal strategy for all of the firm’s asbestos and mesothelioma cases. Nick has nearly 15 years of litigation experience and has handled asbestos cases throughout the country, recovering hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of individuals and families impacted by asbestos-related diseases.