Asbestos or Fibre Cement

Probably 80% of Cape Town’s industrial buildings have asbestos roofing sheets. Asbestos roofing predominates older industrial areas such as Epping and Parow Industria.

Very few people  know the difference between Asbestos and Fibre cement roofing. A quick rule of thumb is, if  the  building predates 1985, it is almost certainly asbestos. Everite phased out Asbestos roof sheets after 1985 and replaced them with Fibre Cement sheeting. This is not always the case as I am told that a small amount of asbestos was imported and used after 1985.

The sheets are exactly the same, except the latter uses an organic fibre, rather than and asbestos fibre. These sheets have an almost identical look , however, the trained eye can see the difference, with Asbestos sheeting having  white “flecks” on the underside of the sheeting.

A quick test can be done by breaking off a small piece of the roof sheet and putting a lighter flame to it. If the fibres glow red, its asbestos. If the Fibres burn off, its Fibre cement.

Is Asbestos roofing safe? The short answer is yes!  I extracted the following statement from the Everite website :

“The new regulations do not apply to ACMs already in use, such as roofing sheets, ceilings boards or pipes because the respirable fibres are encapsulated in cement, says Gibson.

“Numerous international studies had demonstrated that asbestos containing building materials in place present little or no risk to the public. However, extreme caution is needed during installation, maintenance or removal to avoid exposure to respirable asbestos fibres.”

I have recently experienced overseas companies looking for premises in Cape Town, refusing to consider any buildings with Asbestos roofing. Whilst I understand the stringent asbestos laws in some countries, I recently spoke to an asbestos expert and he commented as follows ” Most of the water pipes in Cape Town are asbestos, many  of the hospitals  have asbestos roofs and they are all  perfectly safe. It the roof sheets get broken or damaged, then they can pose  a risk. Most of the motor vehicles have asbestos in their brake pads and the average street will have a higher asbestos content in the air than a building with an asbestos roof.” Fibre cement roof sheets are the same profile and are readily available to replace a broken asbestos roof sheet.

Currently the cost of removing asbestos roof sheets ranges between R 100 to R 200 per square metre depending on the contractor concerned. Fibre cement roof sheets are the same profile and are readily available if you need to replace an asbestos roof sheet.

Guy de la Porte is a specialist in Industrial and Airport Property in Cape town, South Africa.