Dry wall products, including plaster, acoustical ceiling spray, wall texture, spackling compounds, and joint compounds, all contained asbestos. This means that dry wall installers were often exposed to this dangerous mineral. However, the latency period between asbestos exposure and the presentation of asbestos-related illnesses is very long, sometimes as much as 50 years. As a result of this, many retired dry wallers, or those who changed profession, continue to be diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses today. Dry wallers are known to have a high risk of developing lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
Dry Wall Tapers
The taping compounds found in joints, plaster, and dry wall tape presented the gravest risks of asbestos exposure to dry wallers. Every time these products were sanded, cleaned, applied, or mixed, workers were exposed to asbestos fibers. Not only were dry wallers at risk of exposure, but their families experienced secondhand exposure through the fibers that managed to get lodged on their bodies, hair, and clothing.
Although asbestos is now banned, those who work in dry wall repair continue to be at risk. This is particularly true if the dry wall they work on was installed before 1980. Additionally, a dry waller who works in older buildings should take particular care to minimize exposure.
History of Dry Wall Taping
Dry wall taping became popular during the Second World War, when fewer buildings had walls made of plaster, opting for dry wall instead. Completing a plaster wall is a lengthy process, leading to a very long construction cycle. Military buildings, particularly during the war, had to be completed very quickly, while still maintaining the same properties as plaster. The solution was found in dry wall.
In 1916, U.S. Gypsum Company invented sheetrock. This was basically a piece of gypsum between two pieces of paper, meaning no plaster was needed anymore. This is where the term ‘dry wall’ comes from. It was very easy to nail a piece of sheetrock to a wood frame, instantly creating a wall. Builders did initially believe sheetrock was inferior to plaster, but because the project’s construction cycle was much quicker, it was soon accepted. It became so popular that the product continued to be used after the war. Almost all of the homes in suburbia built in the 1950s contain dry wall.
The process of dry walling starts with installing the wall itself, after which it is taped. Installing it means nailing it to wall studs or a wooden frame. Then, to hide the joints, taping is required. At the same time, strips of tape or putty are placed on the different joints. These tasks are the responsibility of the dry wall taper.
A dry wall taper will put a putty compound in the gaps between the sheets of dry wall, and in any places where they have put nails or screw heads. Then another piece of paper will be applied over this putty, smoothing it out. Once completed, all joints and indentations are hidden. After leaving it to dry, the dry waller will smoothen the entire surface using sand paper. At each stage of this process, from nailing the boards to sanding them down, dust is released in large amounts, and these dust particles become airborne. This is why dry wallers now always wear breathing masks. The issue, however, is that they have not always followed this safety procedure. Since both the tape and the putty compound contained asbestos, asbestos fibers were likely to be inhaled or ingested.
Dry wall tapers and dry wall installers work in the same place, and both complete jobs that release a lot of dust. For many years, this dust contained high levels of asbestos fibers, especially because any buildings constructed before the 1980s are likely to have asbestos. Other materials that dry wallers and dry wall tapers came into contact with that were likely to contain asbestos include quick treat joint compound, imperial gypsum cement plaster, sabinite acoustical plaster, and durabond joint compound.
Dry Wall Tapers and Asbestos-Related Illnesses
It is now well understood that there are some occupations in which it is more likely that a person will be exposed to asbestos fibers. This link was properly discovered in the 1970s, after which changes were quickly made to reduce asbestos exposure. It was also realized that exposure could specifically lead to asbestosis and then lung cancer and mesothelioma. Unfortunately, mesothelioma and lung cancer have a very poor prognosis. Significant research have now been completed on the links between dry wall professionals and these types of diseases, clearly indicating high risks in developing one of the three main asbestos-related illnesses.
Dry Wall Installers and Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure in 90% of cases. It can affect the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma) as a result of inhaling asbestos fibers. This is the most common form of mesothelioma. It can also affect the lining of the stomach (peritoneal mesothelioma), the lining the heart (pericardial mesothelioma), and the testes (testicular mesothelioma). Prognosis is very poor in all of these conditions.
Dry Wall Installers and Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is traditionally associated with smoking, and that is certainly the biggest risk factor. Many construction workers smoked before asbestos was banned, which means they have put themselves at even bigger risk of developing this form of cancer. Even non-smokers, however, have an increased risk of developing lung cancer if they have been exposed to asbestos.
Dry Wall Installers and Asbestosis
Asbestosis is a condition of the lungs that is always caused by exposure to asbestos. It is caused by a build-up of scar tissue in the lungs, leading to lower blood flow and breathing problems. Many people who are diagnosed with asbestosis end up developing mesothelioma or lung cancer as well.
The biggest issue with asbestos-related illnesses is that they have a very long latency period. Additionally, asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer are often asymptomatic for a very long period of time. And to make things even more complex, the conditions are hard to diagnose and are often confused with the symptoms of other illnesses, such as the flu or pneumonia. As a result, by the time the condition is diagnosed, most patients are already in the advanced stages, leading to a very poor prognosis.
People who have worked with dry wall before the 1980s, therefore, are advised to discuss this with their physician, so that they can be properly monitored. Today’s dry wall installers and dry wall tapers are encouraged to always have breathing protectors with them, so that they can avoid accidental exposure. They should also follow all instructions and safety regulations put in place to ensure they avoid exposure if they work in buildings constructed before the 1980s, where old asbestos may still be present.