Wallboard: One of the Leading Causes of Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos was widely used in the manufacture of construction materials here in the United States until the practice was restricted in the mid-1970s and finally outlawed in the mid-1980s with the passing of the second iteration of the Clean Air Act. Asbestos appeared in everything from floor and ceiling tiles to concrete mixes and even adhesives and paints. However, wallboard containing asbestos was and is one of the primary contamination vectors for worksites, both then and now.
Not only was asbestos wallboard prevalent, the very nature of the product made it one of the most dangerous asbestos products to work with.
Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, was added to wallboard in high concentrations (some wallboard was up to 50% asbestos) because it added structural integrity and heat resistance to the finished product. Asbestos was cheap, easy to use, and available from multiple sources. This, at the time, seemed not only good for the companies who manufactured the wallboard, but for the carpenters and contractors who used the product as well. They could “sell” the fire retardant properties to new home buyers and often promoted the asbestos product as a safety feature. They either did not know or did not care that the asbestos contained within the wallboard could just as easily kill the home’s new owners.
Indeed, many of the companies who manufactured this asbestos wallboard weren’t forthcoming about the dangers of asbestos as they should have been. Asbestos has been used extensively in the United States since the 1920s. And even as far back as then, manufacturers had evidence that asbestos was caused a variety of diseases including various diseases, such as mesothelioma (often referred to as asbestos cancer) and asbestosis (scarring of the lungs.) There are surviving reports from studies paid for by companies who used asbestos that show those exposed to asbestos are at a much higher risk of developing one of these deadly and debilitating diseases.
However, up until the 1970s the companies manufacturing and promoting these asbestos products did their best to conceal or minimize the risk that this exposure created. They often carefully worded warnings (or completely omitted them) in order to make the product seem safer and often failed to inform users that they should be using special safety equipment.
Wallboard manufacturers were no different.
Wallboard Poses a Huge Threat -Then and Now
Wallboard is one of the most dangerous of all asbestos products simply because of the nature of its use. It must be cut to size, repeatedly sanded, and is often demolished using saws, hammers, and brute force. All of these actions can cause asbestos fibers trapped in the wallboard to become airborne. Indeed, jobsites can become overwhelmed by clouds of asbestos dust, dust that coats everything.
While asbestos is relatively harmless when encased inside a product, airborne asbestos is deadly. When inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers lodge in the soft tissues of the respiratory and digestive tracts. These fibers then cause the growth of cancerous tumors that eventually lead to mesothelioma and the victim’s death.
Workers who handled asbestos wallboard were routinely covered in asbestos dust from everyday handling of the product. This dust entered their bodies and they even carried it home to their families where it posed a health threat to their spouses and children.
And just because the use of these products was outlawed decades ago doesn’t mean that the risk is gone. Hundreds of thousands of tons of asbestos wallboard was manufactured and use in the United States before the ban was put into place. Much of that contaminated wallboard is still in place.
In fact, Transite – the brand name of an asbestos wallboard containing up to 50% asbestos originally manufactured by Johns-Manville – became so popular that the word “Transite” was used generically to describe any type of wallboard.
National Gypsum was another manufacturer of popularly used wallboards. Many of their products contained high levels of asbestos including:
That means that anybody living or working in these buildings – even today – is still at risk. Homeowners, employees, service professionals such as electricians and carpenters, may all come into contact with this outdated and deadly asbestos wallboard.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recognized the danger and has warned professionals involved in the remodeling or demolition industries and homeowners who tackle do-it-yourself renovations to learn what asbestos products look like and what they should do if asbestos products are discovered.
If you or someone you know has been exposed to asbestos as a result of handling or being involved with Wall Board, and if you think such exposure may have caused you or your loved one to become ill with mesothelioma or any other form of asbestos related disease, please contact the lawyers at Clapper, Patti Schweizer & Mason for more information.