Drywall Workers and Mesothelioma Risks
If you’re in a building constructed since the 1940s, you’re probably surrounded by drywall or wallboard. If the drywall was created up until the 1980s, it probably has asbestos in it, on its surface, and in tape connecting it to other drywall sheets. Drywall workers installed these boards, exposing themselves to asbestos fibers which, decades later, may have caused them to develop cancer.
What Do Drywall Workers Do?
A drywall worker (or finisher or taper) measures, cuts, and places drywall sheets in walls. Finishing involves ensuring the joints and edges are smooth and ready for paint or wallpaper. Joints in the sheets and screw heads are covered with special joint compound (or spackle) and tape. The boards are sanded, and more compound may be applied and sanded again as needed.
Drywall (also called sheetrock) replaced lath and plaster, which are how interior walls of wood-frame buildings were finished for centuries. Laths were boards nailed across wood studs, forming a base for plaster, which was smeared on top and smoothed. In 1916, the United States Gypsum Company replaced lath boards with these gypsum-based panels.
Installing and finishing drywall is much faster and more economical than lath and plaster. By World War II, virtually all new buildings used drywall. Demand for it took off in the post-war building boom.
How Were Drywall Workers Exposed to Asbestos?
Through the 1980s, drywall manufacturers used asbestos to improve its strength, absorb sound, and improve fire resistance. Like other asbestos-containing products, drywall, compound, and tape aren’t hazardous when intact.
Fibers are released into the air when the drywall was cut and trimmed. Compound applies as a wet “mud” that dries with time. More fibers are released when the installed, compound-covered wallboard is smoothed by sanding, potentially several times.
Research published in an industrial hygiene journal in 1979 states:
“The use of a variety of spackle and taping compounds is shown to be associated with significant asbestos exposure; air samples taken in the breathing zone by drywall tapers during sanding of taping compounds show fiber concentrations exceeding, by several times, the maximum level permitted by United States Government regulations. These findings are given together with the result of a clinical field survey of drywall construction workers demonstrating that asbestos disease may be an important health hazard in this trade.”
The method of finishing wallboard is a perfect way to put asbestos fibers into the air at a work site.
What Asbestos Hazards Did Drywall Workers Face?
Asbestos can cause severe breathing problems (asbestosis), lung cancer, and different forms of mesothelioma, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Whether a worker gets one of these conditions and when is unpredictable. The chance of developing one of these conditions depends on many factors, including:
- How many fibers were in the air
- The frequency and length of exposure
- The length of time since exposure began
- Whether the person has other breathing conditions
- If the person smokes tobacco
Inhaled asbestos fibers can be lodged in the lungs and irritate their tissues. The immune system tries, but fails to destroy the fibers, causing scarring and inflammation. Asbestos fibers that are swallowed can travel through the digestive system.
The resulting health complications include:
- Lung scarring by asbestos fibers causes asbestosis. Oxygen and carbon dioxide don’t pass into and from scarred lungs easily, so breathing is more difficult
- Lung cancer is a malignant tumor in a lung’s air passages. If the person smokes tobacco, it dramatically increases the risk of developing lung cancer
- Pleural mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the membrane covering the lungs and chest cavity (pleura). Symptoms may not show until 30 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos fibers
- Peritoneal mesothelioma is a cancer of the membrane covering organs and the abdominal cavity
- Pericardial mesothelioma develops in the membrane covering the heart
If you were a drywall worker when asbestos-containing drywall was used or present, you should get medical attention to see if you show signs of these conditions.
How Harmful is Mesothelioma?
Pleural mesothelioma is a rare, treatable, but incurable cancer that grows around the lungs and chest, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It’s caused by asbestos fibers that lodge in the pleura after being inhaled into the lungs. They start a chain reaction of cell mutations that result in the condition. About 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma annually, about three-quarters involve the pleura.
Treatment may prolong your life and provide a better quality of life, but life expectancy for most people with pleural mesothelioma is one to four years after diagnosis. A study of 108 peritoneal mesothelioma patients is the subject of a 2013 article in the European Journal of Cancer. Researchers found 43.6% of them survived seven or more years after treatment ended. A study of pericardial mesothelioma patients estimates the average survival was two months after diagnosis.
Call Us Today For A Free Consultation
If you or a loved one worked with or around asbestos-containing drywall and related products and was diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, Satterley & Kelley attorneys can answer your questions, advise you of your rights to compensation, and discuss the necessary steps to protect them.
Call our Louisville office at 502-589-5600 or toll-free at 855-385-9532. You can also fill out our contact form to schedule a free initial mesothelioma case consultation.