Workers in almost all construction trades face a higher risk for asbestos exposure, including drywall workers. World War II brought a high demand for many construction projects to drive the war effort. That including building ships, planes, and military support buildings. After the war, construction focused on commercial businesses, residential homes, and industrial factories.
Almost every building project before and after the war used asbestos. It was cheap, plentiful and an excellent insulator, which was why it was used in drywall. Unfortunately, asbestos use has a dark side – it can lead to mesothelioma, a terrible cancer of the lung lining.
Drywall Workers Fast Facts (BLS.gov)
- National Employment: 144,000
- Similar Occupations: Carpenters, electricians, glazers, flooring installers, construction workers, hazardous materials removal workers
- Previously Exposed: Yes
- Still Being Exposed: Yes
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: Medium
Several studies have shown that drywall workers have a high risk of asbestos-related conditions. Drywall workers can release the dangerous fibers as they cut panels of drywall down to size or attach them to the framework of a building. Drywall and tape often had asbestos in them before the 19080s. Some drywall workers would even patch holes in sheets of drywall with compounds made from asbestos. Sanding drywall taping compounds also could release asbestos into the air.
A study done in 1979 found that whey drywall contractors sanded drywall taping compounds, the concentration of asbestos in the air was several times above normal. (Asbestos.net)
Until the late 1980s, most American drywall sheets, tapes, and joint compounds had asbestos in them. When drywall with asbestos is dried and sealed with paint, it is harmless because the fibers are contained. But it is during installation that construction workers were at high risk of asbestos exposure.
Scientific Studies on Drywall Workers Asbestos Exposure
Several occupational health organizations concur that contaminated building products, including drywall, boost the risk of contractors getting asbestos-related diseases. Many health organization registries have reported higher incidents of mesothelioma and lung cancer in contractors that were exposed to asbestos in drywall.
One study in North Carolina found higher rates of peritoneal cancers in general contractors. They also found higher rates of lung cancer in drywall workers, carpenters, and painters. Another study in Italy found a link between 251 mesothelioma cases to various types of construction work.
Many other studies have noted a higher number of asbestos fibers in the lungs of various types of construction workers. This has been the case in both disease-free workers and those with diagnosed cancers. Science also shows that all types of construction workers with more years in the trade have a higher risk of cancer and other illnesses. One study that was funded by NIH found pleural abnormalities in 70% of construction workers who had worked at least 30 years.
Drywall Workers Asbestos and Mesothelioma Lawsuits
One mesothelioma lawsuit of note to drywall workers involved a painter who developed mesothelioma when he was 60. He spent most of his work life painting with topcoats and fillers from companies including Kelly Moore and Bondex, as well as Union Carbide. Rather than settle out of court, he went to trial and won $11 million.
Another major asbestos lawsuit involved a construction working living in Florida. The man got peritoneal mesothelioma, which he traced to his career as a construction supervisor. He remembered handling drywall with asbestos in it, as well as ceiling textures from more than a dozen manufacturers. Some of these companies were Kaiser
Gypsum, Union Carbide, and Premix-Marbeltite. The case went to trial, and the jury awarded him $14 million.
Some of the manufacturers of construction materials, including drywall, that contained asbestos were:
- US Mineral Products
- Delaware Insulation
- Brunswick Fabrications
- The Flintkote Company
- Hanson Permanente
- Artra Group
- Fuller-Austin Insulation
- CE Thurston and Sons
- Kentile Floors