Almost every product used by carpenters before the mid-1970s had the potential to contain asbestos. Without sufficient protection or prior warning, many carpenters and construction workers spent day after day breathing in deadly asbestos fibers.
Medical researchers knew as early as the 1930s that breathing airborne asbestos could cause a variety of serious lung diseases, such as mesothelioma. Although many manufacturers have phased out virtually every product that contains asbestos over the past couple decades, contaminated building materials still exist at countless jobsites, placing carpenters at serious risk of illness or death.
Until the late 1970s, asbestos was often used in many common materials in the commercial, residential and maritime construction industries. Manufacturers added asbestos to thousands of different products to make them stronger and more fire-resistant. Working alongside a variety of different tradespeople, carpenters often encountered this toxic substance, which was a component in materials such as:
Working in close proximity with these materials, carpenters performed routine tasks such as hammering, sawing, or sanding which often caused asbestos particles to be released in the air.
Several types of construction workers may have been exposed to asbestos. These workers include, but are not limited to:
Drywall workers are at high risk for asbestos-related diseases. Many of the materials they used daily, such as drywall tape, joint compound and textures, often contained asbestos. Mixing or sanding these asbestos materials released asbestos fibers into the air on many job sites. Plasters also patched holes in drywall with asbestos compounds. Dry-sweeping after project completion caused even greater levels of asbestos exposure.
Masons and Bricklayers
Masonry workers once mixed raw asbestos into compounds for bricks, stones or blocks. After preparing these materials, bricklayers faced additional exposure hazards by cutting them down to size and securing them in place with asbestos adhesives or concretes. Masonry workers may also have created asbestos dust by scraping up dry, asbestos-containing mortar to prep the surface for new bricks.
Roofers and Tile Setters
Asbestos shingles and tiles pose serious exposure hazards for construction workers. Tile setters once mixed and spread asbestos containing grout or removed it while upgrading a building’s flooring. Roofers often sprayed asbestos-contaminated asphalt cutback or asphalt emulsions onto finished roofs, or tore up old roof flashings as they installed new ones. Roof shingles, tar paper and underlayment also frequently contained asbestos – exposing workers during cutting or roof removal.
Many of these workers sprayed asbestos spackling compounds on surfaces before they painted them. A few of the workers even used asbestos paint or textured coatings that listed asbestos as an ingredient.