During the 1900s, asbestos was used in many construction materials. Because it is so heat resistant, it was a popular choice among manufacturers who made drywall insulation. At the time, no one knew the dangerous risks of asbestos exposure. Now, however, the scientific and medical communities have proven that even brief encounters with asbestos can lead to life-threatening health conditions like cancer and mesothelioma. Drywallers who have worked with materials that contained asbestos face a very high risk of exposure. Because the symptoms of exposure take a long time to manifest, we are currently seeing a spike in mesothelioma diagnoses as former drywallers begin to exhibit symptoms related to asbestos encounters that happened 10-60 years ago on job sites.
Asbestos Exposure for Drywallers
In an average day, drywallers working prior to asbestos regulation could encounter asbestos in a number of ways. It was often hidden in insulating materials, drywall tape, and drywall compounds. Workers would cut drywall panels to fit within framing, causing tiny particles of asbestos fibers to be released into the air. These fibers could easily be inhaled or land on the skin and later be ingested.
Part of the reason that drywallers are especially affected by asbestos is because of the tasks associated with their jobs. After nailing up drywall, drywall tape and joint compounds are used to seal joints together. Then, drywallers come back and sand the joints to give the walls a smoother finish. This sanding process creates a huge cloud of dust, literally raining down asbestos on everyone in the room. Whether a drywaller was the one sanding or was just standing in close proximity, this lethal asbestos exposure descended upon the room’s occupants indiscriminately.
Millions of construction workers and drywallers were exposed to asbestos before the medical community fully understood the dangers. Decades later, these laborers have gotten sick with mesothelioma cancer and other lung diseases and cancers. This has led to a flurry of lawsuits as construction workers and drywallers began filing lawsuits against the companies that used asbestos in their building materials. In order to prevent future lawsuits, many of those companies now have funds set up to pay previous workers who got sick from exposure to asbestos.
The Risk Still Exists
While modern building materials generally do not contain high levels of asbestos, it is still used in some places. It wasn’t until 1971 that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration started to regulate the types asbestos used. For 20 years, OSHA took steps to continually reduce the allowable amount of asbestos in building materials. But for many drywallers, it was too late and the damage was already done.
Today’s drywallers can still sometimes encounter asbestos on worksites, especially on jobs where old drywall is being repaired or replaced. Asbestos is now regulated, but it hasn’t been entirely banned. There are still products that are made with low concentrations of asbestos. Old asbestos is still lurking in the majority of commercial and public buildings and it is commonly found in old schools, factories, trains, ships, and even homes.
For drywallers, this is a risk that has to be taken seriously. Wearing appropriate protective gear when working in old job sites is crucial to preventing dangerous exposure to asbestos. If you have already been exposed, talk to your doctor and consult with lawyers to find out what your best course of action will be to prevent illness and pursue damages from the manufacturers at fault.