Asbestos Roofing: Banned & Cancerous Material Kenyans Are Still Using

A collage of different houses with asbestos roofing in Kenya
A collage of different houses with asbestos roofing in Kenya

Many Kenyans consider owning a home a significant accomplishment. 

However, the exorbitant prices of construction materials and the ever-increasing cost of living often compel some Kenyans to resort to cheaper materials and cost-cutting measures to adhere to their budget constraints.

Consequently, this can result in the construction of substandard houses that are susceptible to structural instability and may even pose health risks, potentially leading to chronic diseases.

A glaring example of this issue can be observed in houses that utilize asbestos-based materials, particularly in roofing applications. 

Asbestos is a versatile material that finds use in various construction aspects, such as soundproofing, ceilings, tiles, and insulation materials, among others. However, its use comes with serious health concerns and should be approached with caution.

A photo of old roofing sheets made of asbestos
A photo of old roofing sheets made of asbestos

Asbestos is popularly found in various government institution roofings, including hospitals, universities, education centers, as well as coffee and tea estates, and county government offices. 

Despite the ban on asbestos usage in 2006 due to its carcinogenic effects, some residential homes still feature roofs constructed from the material.

Unfortunately, many Kenyans residing or working in such buildings remain unaware of the extent of toxic fumes they may be inhaling due to the presence of asbestos roofing. 

Historically, the popularity of asbestos as a roofing material was attributed to its lightweight nature and ease of installation.

Other advantages of using asbestos include; the fact that it does not corrode when exposed to chemicals. 

According to the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), asbestos materials do not pose a health risk when left intact and undisturbed.

"It becomes a problem when, due to damage, disturbance, or deterioration over time, the material releases fibers into the air. Exposure to air containing the fibers increases the risk of inhaling the fibers and developing the associated diseases,' NEMA added.

When exposed to such, humans can contract lung cancer and other diseases.

The fine fibers on the natural mineral can remain suspended in the air for hours increasing the possibility of inhalation.

Due to the health risks, before removing the roofing, NEMA advises that the asbestos sheets should be wet, and if they crack, users should spray the designated area.

The sheets should not be slid against each other or thrown to the ground to avoid any cracks.

All homeowners removing the asbestos sheets should follow the guidelines laid out by NEMA and dispose them off in designated areas away from the general public.

Taking down such roofing through the right channel reduces the number of cancer-related diseases the material can cause.

NEMA has constantly been urged to draft more defined and strict guidelines on handling toxic material.

Critics claim that the National Guidelines on Safe Management and Disposal of Asbestos published in 2013 does not address the matter in a wholesome manner.

Experts recommend using alternative materials, where possible to save lives.

A photo of NEMA offices in Nairobi, Kenya.
A photo of NEMA offices in Nairobi, Kenya.