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Drywall Work and the Risk of Asbestos Exposure

asbestos_exposureWhen looking around the house, it can be easy to take certain things for granted so much that you forget they’re even there. You can lose sight of the exterior paint job as you go about busy work days. Carpets that used to be springy under your feet disappear as you navigate through various rooms. These rooms are divided and separated by the drywall.

But even though it’s easy to forget the drywall is even there, you must be conscious of whether it starts to become old, worn or damaged. The reason for this is that certain products used to assemble the drywall can put nearby people at risk for asbestos exposure if their condition is deteriorating, and we’re not just talking about the people who occupy the homes. If you’re an employee who worked with drywall during the 1980s, or you have to handle drywall that was manufactured before this time period, you may become vulnerable if asbestos mineral fibers break off into the nearby air.

Physical handling of old drywall-related products can create deadly dust
Drywall itself very rarely contained asbestos fiber, and this was confined to a few specific products with special applications. Often talc was used in the shipping of finished drywall so stacked sheets would slide off each other with ease. Sometimes that talc was contaminated with tremolite asbestos.

However, the big exposure related to drywall was in the taping compounds, which were referred to as mud or joint compound, that were used to cover and smooth the taping that covered the seams between sheets and any nail or screw holes in the sheets themselves. This was sanded to get a smooth, paintable finish and created dust which was a big hazard to the tapers and those nearby, as well as in later remodels and demolition.

Typically, products that contain asbestos don’t pose a health threat to anyone as long as they remain intact and in good condition. However, during construction, renovation or demolition, it’s easy for asbestos-tainted items, such as drywall-related products, to release mineral fibers into the air.

Several studies that appeared in the American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal showed how dangerous asbestos can be. One paper from 1980 demonstrated that drywall taping produced the most dust during the mixing, sweeping and the sanding phases. This is worrisome considering that there were about 75,000 construction workers in the U.S. working in the drywall trade by 1979.

Another paper published in 1979 revealed that air concentration measurements of asbestos fibers within the breathing zones around drywall tapers exceeded government regulations.

If you worked in the drywall trade prior the the 1980s, and you have an asbestos-related illness, you should consider consulting an asbestos attorney.

Protect yourself whenever possible
If you’re not sure whether a section of drywall has asbestos in it, it’s better to assume that it does. From there, you can get in touch with professional contractors that are specially trained and certified to handle products tainted with asbestos, who can collect material samples for laboratory analysis to measure asbestos concentration. Remember that you shouldn’t collect these material samples yourself if you aren’t properly trained.

If asbestos is in the drywall-related products, the abatement and removal processes should also be handled only by professionals.

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