If you worked in construction before the 1990s, you probably have been exposed to asbestos. Most people in the United States, no matter where they may live or grew up, have more than likely heard the phrase ‘hanging sheetrock or drywall’ at some point in time. Shortly before World War II, the interior wall finishing of most homes in the United States and across most of North America was completed with lath board and plaster applications. Lath board is thin pieces or strips of wood that measure about 1” to 2” wide and about 3’-4’ in length. Carpenters would then layout or cross-section the pieces of wood and nail them into the studs braced inside an interior wall of a home or building.
After the lath strips were driven into the studs, the gaps in between the strips were filled and then coated with plaster. This was the common practice carpenters or contractors used to finish the interior walls of residential homes and commercial buildings before the installation of drywall became customary for builders and contractors.
Drywall or Sheetrock Beginning
Even before the 1940s, the United States Gypsum company produced finished interior panels, which were soon branded by the company as their product called sheetrock. The sheetrock product was branded around the year 1916. Eventually, the sheetrock or drywall would come in 4’ x 8’ sheets, which were ready to ‘hang’ once the constructor unloaded the panels from the truck.
Although the lath and plaster were far more inexpensive, the time and labor costs were drastically reduced because of the ‘ready to install’ panel board. The drywall panels themselves began to affect the time required for finishing the interior of homes and buildings versus the earlier method. Because of the time reduction, sheetrock or drywall began to progressively take over the market for interior finishing before the mid-part of the twentieth century and is now the standard process in residential or commercial interior finishing. It is also a main cause for asbestos exposure.
Asbestos Used in Drywall
During World War II, there was a labor shortage, and the convenience of drywall use became a necessity across the board for finishing interior walls. Also, during this time, drywall or panel board makers began using asbestos in their product as an additive to make the material lighter, stronger, and fire-resistant. Soon after the war ended, the demand for drywall dramatically increased due to the residential and manufacturing surge across the country. With the demand for drywall also came to the increased need for more asbestos to be used in the process.
All asbestos classifications known are all hailed to be carcinogenic. Asbestos is a group of silicate mineral fibers that are found naturally in the earth either in mineral rock deposits or as a single contaminant in another mineral or substance. Some severe side effects proven to be caused by exposure to asbestos are lung disease, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, which a rare form of cancer caused exclusively from asbestos.
Mesothelioma can lie dormant in the body for years before it is even discovered or developed. To date, there is no specific test available that determines if or when an individual will contract mesothelioma. Risk factors of contracting mesothelioma have been shown through studies to increase in humans who come up close and personal with daily asbestos exposure. Workers in many fields today and even in the not so distant past may have been constantly exposed to the harmful effects of asbestos without being aware of its presence at all.
How Are We Exposed to Asbestos?
Drywall sheets made through the 1930s were not made with asbestos as an additive until right at the beginning of World War II. As discussed, when the need for drywall production increased, so did the use of asbestos in the material- setting the stage for asbestos exposure and cancer risk.
The asbestos fibers inhaled are hazardous and widely known to cause lung disease, cancer, and onset mesothelioma over time. With the housing boom and manufacturing boom in full-swing after the war, there were large volumes of construction workers who hung drywall throughout the country. Asbestos was continually used up until the end of the 1980s, and when it was banned as an additive in drywall, the product ran or kept as a surplus was not pulled, but instead still allowed to be used or sold on the market until 1990.
Contractors, Carpenters, and Construction Workers Beware
Ultimately, if you or anyone worked in construction and hung drywall between the 1980s-early 1990s or before, there is a strong chance of possible exposure to asbestos from drywall. Drywall sheets themselves are not readily harmful until penetrated. Installing drywall or panel board requires cutting, sanding, and applying joint compound to the board. Installing drywall usually requires the panels to be drilled, cut or shaped, and then sanded once or if the joint compound is applied. These steps for installation are factors that largely contribute to construction workers being exposed to the harmful effects of asbestos-laden drywall.
In turn, the joint compound product usually comes in powder form and was mixed with asbestos as an ingredient up until the same-time the harmful additive was pulled from use in drywall production. Drywall joint compound usually came in sack or buckets, and was mixed to form a paste or plaster; therefore, the tiny particles containing asbestos could have easily been inhaled over many years of use. For forty-plus years, construction workers who dealt or were around drywall intensively could have been exposed to asbestos continuously through the fine particles that went airborne as the sheets were being sanded or cut.
Once asbestos was banned from use in wallboard, drywall, or the coined sheetrock brand, the risk of being exposed has been curtailed immensely. However, if you have already been exposed to asbestos, you need to get yourself examined immediately.
Even today, if workers have to tear down any indoor walls of homes or replace sheetrock with new panels, they need to be made aware of the dangers of coming into contact with any of these boards, especially if residential homes or buildings were erected before the 1990s.
Do Not Discard Your Risk To Asbestos Exposure
Anyone, hanging drywall on a daily basis or in the building construction field before the 1990s should be extremely cautious about the potential they may have with of being exposed to asbestos. Lung disease, and especially mesothelioma, does not develop overnight. Still, the harmful exposure to asbestos will not go away as a result of stopping what you did even for a few years or a decade ago. Studies have shown that mesothelioma can lie dormant for up to 40 years or more. If you or a loved one have worked in this industry believe you could be suffering from complications due to lung disease, cancer, or the like, please contact a physician and an experienced asbestos attorney.