Asbestos is part of many buildings that were constructed before the 1980s. Anyone who was employed as a painter before then was at risk of developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. Even today, painters in older buildings risk being exposed to the dangerous mineral.
Painters Fast Facts
- National Employment, 2018: 375,000
- Similar Occupations: Carpenters, construction laborers, drywall and ceiling tile installers, flooring installers and tile and marble setters, painting and coating workers
- Previously Exposed: Yes
- Still Being Exposed: Yes
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: Medium
Painters typically worked with many products that contained varying levels of asbestos:
- Coatings and glosses
- Fillers and drying agents
- House siding and cement siding
- Joint or drywall compound
- Wall tile backing
Painters had to work closely with these products that often contained asbestos. Most did not have enough safety gear to protect them from asbestos exposure. Painters who worked near these products may have inhaled asbestos fibers on many occasions. (asbestos.net)
The Paint Industry and Asbestos
Throughout the 20th century, asbestos filler was often used in paints. It was used as a filler because it could essentially create ‘fireproof’ paints that would make structures more fire-resistant. Asbestos filler also was often used in textured paints to add feel and dimension to ceilings and walls. Companies that made these paints were at risk of exposing workers to asbestos while they were adding fillers to paints.
While painting with products that contained asbestos, or taking off old asbestos paint, painters would be put at risk of inhaling asbestos dust.
Also, painters were often responsible for painting on construction sites and also prepping surfaces that needed painting. This would require painters to prime, tape, clean, fill, caulk and sand various surfaces, such as wallboard, joint compound, and tapes that contained asbestos. All of these activities could disturb materials that contained asbestos and would create asbestos dust that could put all workers in the area in danger. (mesotheliomabook.com)
Painters and Mesothelioma
Whether painters breathed in asbestos fibers in their products or where they were actually working, the hazards they faced were significant. Without wearing breathing safety gear, painters would inhale large amounts of invisible asbestos fibers into their lungs.
Mesothelioma develops as the inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers get embedded in the heart, lungs, or abdomen. Fibers cause irritation and scarring in the tissue, and can lead to cancer after many years pass.
Modern Painters Asbestos Exposure
Even though asbestos is no longer used in most products, painters still risk being exposed to asbestos today. Some painters are employed in buildings or on job sites where asbestos exists. Other painters may be involved in asbestos abatement projects where inadequate safety equipment is used.
In situations where asbestos cannot be safely removed, it must be sealed so it cannot become airborne. Special coatings and encapsulants are used for these purposes, and painters could be required to apply pain after asbestos has been sealed.
In other situations, a painter could be hired to paint over the roof tiles that contain asbestos. All of this has to be done with proper safety equipment. While the risk is less, asbestos exposure is still possible.
Scientific Studies on Painter Asbestos Exposure
A study published by the NIH discusses the use of asbestos in paints starting in the early 20th century. It was estimated that some paints may have contained 20% asbestos by weight. Usage of asbestos did decrease after then 1950s, but textured paints and coatings with asbestos were used in home decoration until the 1990s. Those paints had 5% chrysotile asbestos by weight.
The study noted that occupational exposure as a painter increased the likelihood to get lung cancer, mesothelioma, and bladder cancer. (NIH.gov)
Painter Asbestos and Mesothelioma Lawsuits
Kelly-Moore Paint Company is one firm that has faced asbestos litigation over the years. For more than 10 years, Kelly-Moore used asbestos as a thickening agent, filler and fire retardant in its Paco Textures line as well as other interior finishing paints. These products usually contained 5-10% asbestos. Spackling and taping compounds made by Kelly-Moore may also have contained asbestos. (asbestos.com)
There have been 48,000 lawsuits filed against the company for asbestos-related injuries. One 47-year-old construction worker who was diagnosed with mesothelioma was awarded $55 million in 2001 after he was exposed to asbestos through a joint compound product.
In 2004, a 60-year-old won an asbestos trial in LA and received 14% of $36 million from Kelly-Moore.