Many in the roofing industry have viewed the recent difficulties faced by industry-leader Owens Corning as something that doesn’t affect them. What could a $5 billion multi-national company have in common with a roof contracting business?

A past.

OC’s recent financial setbacks are largely a manifestation of a minor, but now monumental, entry into the asbestos business over 30 years ago. Their $135 million in sales back then has netted them a multi-billion dollar liability. Couldn’t it happen to you? Well, America’s trial lawyers may have something to say about that (some day).

Roof contracting requires you to use materials that are potentially hazardous. You know it, the people who work for you know it, the general public and government know it, and your customers know it. But do you know just how hazardous the materials you use really are? Not just today, not just until the job is complete, but beginning today and from now on.

You may properly store, use, and dispose of all the materials in your business today, but what exposure lies ahead from this activity? One potential time bomb stems from the seemingly harmless and legal disposal of roofing materials in landfills. It is conceivable that you may be called to account for materials you are dumping today in 20 or 30 years. Hard to imagine? When you are faced with the doctrines of strict liability or joint and several liability, it becomes very feasible. And forget about a “statute of limitations,” it does not seem to apply here.

This may be the wake-up call we all need to explore our various policies for handling hazardous materials, along with a check-up on our insurance coverage. Do your general liability policies exclude damages and injuries when you use “polluting” materials? Are you insured for downstream liability from dumping? What are the specific laws and regulations where you do business?

Major asphalt roofing manufacturers have virtually ceased dumping in landfills in favor of recycling. In many cases, the manufacturers spend more money on these programs not only because they have developed strict corporate environmental policies; but also because it makes good business sense. I realize it is more expensive to separate waste to recycle, and recycling is not an option in every market. Where you can, however, you may want to look past today’s monetary consideration when deciding whether or not to recycle. One way or the other, it will be wise to make all materials go away “completely” rather than leaving them laying around to cause you trouble later. As for Owen Corning, we acknowledge the strength of their people. As they work to emerge from Chapter 11, we continue to recognize OC as a leader in the roofing industry.