Cement masons are responsible for mixing, forming, and laying cement products that often contained asbestos for decades. Part of their work included stirring asbestos into cement, making it into blocks, and then putting the products in commercial and residential buildings.
Cement Masons Fast Facts (BLS.gov)
- National Employment, 2018: 289,000
- Similar Occupations: Carpenters, construction laborers, and helpers, drywall and ceiling tile installers, flooring installers, glaziers, insulation workers
- Previously Exposed: Yes
- Still Being Exposed: Yes
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: Medium
Cement masons and plant workers had dirty jobs, but that was not what made working with cement so dangerous. Asbestos was often added to make cement so strong it was almost indestructible. But it also exposed cement masons to dangerous toxic asbestos fibers.
In 2015, a Polish clinical study looked at the rate of asbestos-related cancer among workers who worked with cement, including masons and cement plant workers in the 1940s through the 1990s. The highest mesothelioma rates were among people who worked with cement as masons and in factories, at 6.55 cases per 1,000 workers.
Cement masons would often come home with asbestos fibers on their clothes and skin, which would expose their families to the dangers of asbestos exposure.
Asbestos often was added to many cement products that cement masons used every day. Although the cement products were 90% cement and 10% asbestos, it was enough to make the mixture dangerous. The fibers were mixed into the cement before it was made into blocks and cured. The final, hard mixture could be made into sheets that were used for roofing, or it could be molded into blocks for construction, tiles, vents, and gutters for other purposes.
Cement Masons Asbestos Exposure
Exposure to asbestos was a regular problem for cement masons and plant workers. One of the biggest dangers was when the raw asbestos came into plants which were in sealed bags and were opened by workers.
Another type of exposure happened when the cement sheet products were stacked, which could emit dangerous dust into the air. Another part of the manufacturing process that released asbestos dust into the air was transferring cement products to the shipping department. Of course, when the final cement blocks were delivered to a job site, cement masons were at risk of asbestos exposure as they were laying bricks and fitting them into place. Sometimes they had to cut the bricks down, which would blow asbestos dust into the air.
Scientific Studies on Cement Masons Asbestos Exposure
A scientific study of 6,800 employees at two asbestos cement plants in Louisiana showed a close association between the number of mesothelioma risk factors they had and how long they worked there. The longer a person worked at a cement plant, the higher the chance was of getting mesothelioma. Another factor that added to the risk was the length of time spent in the pipe part of the plants.
Workers in these plants worked there an average of four years and were exposed to an average of 7.6 million asbestos particles per cubic foot. Among all cement plant workers and cement masons, 10 cases of mesothelioma were found as of 1984.
Cement Mason Asbestos and Mesothelioma Lawsuits
A former employee at Johns-Manville cement plant in Illinois died from mesothelioma after he worked there for 25 years. A jury gave his family $3.4 million in damages in a wrongful death mesothelioma lawsuit. The suit concluded that the asbestos supplier to the cement plant, Advocate Mines Ltd., was negligent because it did not offer any warning about the dangers of working around asbestos.
Some of the companies that produced asbestos-containing cement included Johns Manville, National Gypsum Company, and Supradur Manufacturing.