There are three obvious sources of potential carcinogens (cancer causing agents) in the roofing workplace: 1) the sun, 2) the air, 3) the chemicals in the roofing materials.
We all know that too much solar exposure can cause skin cancer. The solution is to wear a hat when working on roofs and use sun block on exposed areas, particularly on the face.
We can also breathe carcinogenic materials while working. Over the past century, millions of people have unknowingly been exposed to asbestos, a class of fibrous minerals known to cause a variety of cancers. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer caused almost exclusively by asbestos exposure. Some old roof felts are known to contain asbestos, so when tearing apart old slate roofs, wear breathing protection. More about asbestos and cancer can be found at SlateRoofCentral.com/links.html.
We are unknowingly exposed to other carcinogenic chemicals because they’re contained in the roofing materials that we handle. For example, according to a popular self-adhering underlayment manufacturer’s Material Safety Data Sheets (excerpted below), the material contains 20-25% “heavy paraffinic distillate solvent extract,” a substance rated as a Group 1 carcinogen (a known human carcinogen) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The IARC is part of the World Health Organization and its mission is to coordinate and conduct research on the causes of human cancer, the mechanisms of carcinogenesis, and to develop scientific strategies for cancer prevention and control.