Paul Kelley talks about asbestos exposure from joint compounds and other wall materials. He explains when exposures may have happened and who was likely to be exposed. Then, he outlines how to get help if you or a loved one has developed mesothelioma or lung cancer due to asbestos exposure.
John Maher: Hey, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Paul Kelley. Paul is a partner with the Kentucky personal injury law firm, Satterley & Kelley, which has over 30 years of collective experience in handling cases involving mesothelioma and asbestos exposure. Today we’re talking about joint compounds and mesothelioma. Welcome, Paul.
Paul Kelley: Good morning, John. How are you?
John: Good, thanks. Paul, what are joint compounds?
Paul: Joint compounds were used to finish the seams between sections of drywall. I think a lot of people are probably familiar with drywall. If you’ve got a 10-foot-long wall, that’s not one continuous piece of drywall. Typically, it usually comes in three or four-foot segments.
They’d hang the drywall. They would take a tape material and the seams in between two pieces of drywall, they would use the tape in-between those two seams, and then eventually they would cover the seams with a joint compound. The joint compound was intended to create a smooth surface so that eventually when they put paint or wallpaper over it, it’d be completely smooth and there wouldn’t be any rough edges or anything like that.
John: Right. I think people who do this maybe call that mud, where they take a big trowel, and it’s sort of this almost pasty kind of material, and they take the trowel, and then spread it across the wallboard and then scrape it down with the trowel. That’s what we’re talking about, right?
Paul: Absolutely. Typically, what would occur is the joint compound would come in a bag. It’d just be a powdery material. They’d pour the powder into a bucket, mix it with water, then stir it all up, and then it creates the mud. Then they do exactly what you said.
They take the trowel and rub it on the seam. They’d usually kind of rub it throughout the drywall material itself, and then they’d let it dry. Then when it dried, they would sand it, and then typically they’d put another coat on, and then they’d sand it again, and then hopefully, after that process, it’d be a completely smooth surface. It would be ready to put the paint on. All of those processes from mixing it to the application, the sanding in particular, created a lot of dust. To the extent that those joint compounds contain asbestos, that dust exposure would contain asbestos dust.
John: Right. Talk a little bit more about that and how joint compounds contain asbestos.
Paul: Back in the ’60s and ’70s, possibly even into the 1980s, joint compounds typically contained asbestos. Again, the material came in, usually, just a bag. A lot of people are probably familiar with concrete or cement. You’ve seen the bags that those sorts of things come in.
Joint compounds were very similar. They came in a bag. You would just ripped that bag open, dump it into a bucket, mix it with water, and then ultimately form the mud. But the joint compounds contained, and intentionally, the manufacturers of those products intended to put asbestos into the joint compounds. Usually, there would be a company that provided the asbestos that went into the joint compound, and then there was the company that mixed that asbestos into the joint compound, put it into the bag, sold it to the construction companies, and then the people that did that work were exposed in that way.
John: What was the reason for putting asbestos into the joint compounds?
Paul: Well, that’s a good question. I’m not sure that there was a good reason for it, but I think the main reason was that it is a heat-resistant product. I think that it wasn’t the kind of thing that was going to stop somebody’s house from burning down, but it could certainly help slow down a little bit of the process and whatnot. But to be perfectly frank, I’ve been litigating these cases for over 20 years, and I don’t think there is a good justification for putting asbestos into joint compounds.
John: Did other parts of wallboard systems contain asbestos, like the drywall itself, or you mentioned that there’s tape that you put on the seams, as well? Did either of those contain asbestos?
Paul: In some circumstances, yes. There’s something called Sheetrock that was typically used in more industrial type settings. Obviously, people put drywall in their house. That drywall, residential drywall, typically did not contain asbestos, but Sheetrock in a manufacturing plant for many years absolutely did.
The tapes that were used in-between the segments, whether it was industrial or residential or some other process, usually, those tapes did contain asbestos, as well. Imagine the scenario where you’ve got sheetrock and asbestos tape and asbestos joint compound, and you’re sanding all those materials, people were getting exposure from all three of them, or in the residential setting, frequently they would get exposure from the tape and the joint compound, because I mean, now you’re sanding that material.
You’re creating a tremendous amount of friction in order to get the smooth surface. Then like I mentioned before, I mean frequently they would’ve to do that two or three times before they could actually put the paint on.
John: Right. Who was typically exposed to the asbestos and joint compounds?
Paul: I mean, typically, it was the drywall workers, carpenters, anybody involved in residential construction. But if we were to look at a classification of people, carpenters and drywall workers themselves were the ones that typically did that kind of work.
If somebody’s building a house, a residential home, they may not call themselves a drywall worker. They might call themselves a carpenter, but typically, somebody that’s specialized in that kind of work. There were a lot of people that specialized just in doing drywall work and the application of the joint compounds, but it could also be you or me. I mean, a lot of people built their own homes. A lot of people renovated their own homes.
Sometimes, if somebody built and renovated their own house in the 1970s, they probably were exposed during the initial application of the drywall and joint compounds. They were exposed again during the tear-out, and they were probably exposed the third time when they put it up again. I’m not one of those guys, but you and I both know the weekend warriors that are handy and aren’t going to pay somebody to do something they could do themselves. We see a lot of that.
You’d also see a lot of people involved in the demolition of homes and industrial settings, what I call laborers. They’re just people that had kind of the grunt work. We’re getting ready to tear this house out, and then we’re going to gut from the front door to the back door, everything, and tear all the walls out, tear the drywall and everything out. They’re being exposed. Sometimes, even the painters could be exposed if they’re nearby painting a wall when somebody was sanding in another area.
You’d get a lot of different crafts, but typically, the people that were the “drywall workers” were the ones that I think were most heavily exposed, and then, again, that would also include the mixing process. I mean, there was no light exposure when you’re dumping those materials into a bucket and then pouring the water in. Even pouring the water in would create a poof of dust that people would breathe during that process.
John: Are there any wallboard products today that still use asbestos?
Paul: I certainly hope not. In the United States, I would find that hard to believe. To my knowledge, no one is manufacturing any wallboard or joint compounds that contain asbestos. However, I do believe that there are foreign manufacturers that still sell those materials, and sometimes those materials wind up in the United States.
I think it’s very important that if you do that kind of work to understand what material you are using. The beauty of 2022 is there’s the Internet. There are better labeling requirements. I think it’s important to look at the label. If the label doesn’t say asbestos, don’t take that label’s word for it. Conduct some research and make sure that you understand that product before you use it.
I would say that there’s a very, very high likelihood that those kinds of materials do not contain asbestos today, but I do think there is a chance that you could be unfortunate enough to purchase something that does. It’s not worth the risk, because the problem with asbestos diseases is it doesn’t cause you cancer today or tomorrow. It’ll cause you cancer 20 years from now. The best way that we can deal with it today is avoidance, protection, that sort of thing to try not to be exposed. There’s a lot of old houses that are still out there, and a lot of those old houses haven’t been renovated and still contain the original drywall, still contain the original mud that was applied. Somebody might go in and say, “I’m going to sand these walls again so I can apply a new coat of paint,” and stir up all that dust.
John: Or break through a wall to put on an addition or something like that.
Paul: That’s right.
John: They’re picking right through the wallboard and creating all that dust, too. Yeah, anybody who’s dealing with that sort of thing, doing construction or demolition, would have to be careful about that.
Paul: That’s right. If it’s an industrial setting, it might not just be the joint compound. It might be the Sheetrock. It’s important to have a good understanding of what it is that you’re working with. My advice to folks is always avoid it if at all possible.
I understand the reality of the situation though, that sometimes people have a job to do. Then they can’t fully avoid it, so now you have to protect yourself. You have to make sure that your employer protects yourself if you’re working for somebody. If you’re working for yourself, you need to protect yourself. That’s not an easy thing to do. Paper masks don’t do it. Respirators, cartridge respirators, fresh air respirators, I mean, those are the best methods. Protective clothing and that sort of thing are really the only good methods.
But in today’s day and age, new stuff more than likely isn’t going to contain asbestos, but there is absolutely no question that it could and there’s no question that old existing materials could absolutely contain asbestos. Just going in, taking a sledgehammer to it, knocking it out and taking no other safeguards, it could have disastrous consequences 20 years down the road.
I don’t want to have to represent somebody 20 years from now. I mean, I’ll do it today, because we know what the horror and reality of the situation was back in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and even into the 2000s. People just didn’t know, and so we’re still seeing cases today from exposures many years ago. I will continue to do so, but I sincerely hope that people aren’t going to get exposed today and that my services or someone like me, services aren’t necessary 20, 30 years down the road. Unfortunately, I think the reality of it is that these cases will be filed for another 40, 50 years.
John: Yeah, wow. Well, that’s really great information, Paul. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Paul: No problem, John. Thank you.
John: For more information about mesothelioma and asbestos exposure, visit the law firm of Satterley & Kelley at satterleylaw.com or call (855) 385-9532.