Acoustic Plaster

Summary

Decorative and acoustic plaster was a popular addition to homes and commercial buildings in the late 19th century through the 20th century. Asbestos is lightweight, durable and inexpensive. Therefore, it was embraced by the plaster manufacturing industry and found its way into the homes, schools, businesses and churches across the country.

Asbestos in Acoustic Plaster Explained

Plaster is made up of 3 components:

  1. Cement (lime, gypsum)
  2. Aggregate (sand, pumice, micas)
  3. Fiber (asbestos, animal hair, wood, synthetic fiber)

A common myth is that plasters made before 1880 all contained horse hair. While horsehair, and even human hair, have been found in older plasters, they were not common materials. Typically, cattle and pig hair was shaved during the leather making process, collected and then sold as a byproduct at markets to plaster manufacturers.

MJN Brief

Although the use of asbestos dates back centuries, some of the largest plaster manufacturers did not use asbestos in their materials until the 1920s. Before then, fibers such as processed wood and animal hair were more popular.

By the 1920s, asbestos had largely replaced animal hair. It had become more prevalent in the plaster making process due to properties and abilities such as:

  • Fireproofing
  • Moisture resistance
  • Durability
  • Lightness
  • Sound absorption
  • Low cost
  • Acoustic Properties

Asbestos-containing acoustical plaster is identified by its rough and random texture. This type of ceiling plaster is commonly referred to as a “popcorn ceiling”. While the popcorn ceiling was widely embraced for its aesthetic, the rough texture also served to deflect sound waves and reduce the number of echoes in a room.

Acoustical plaster served in 2 main ways to control sound:

  1. Sound Proofing: A heavy, dense, material was applied directly to concrete. The sound would hit the material and be reflected back down into the space. A popcorn texture helped to minimize echoes. This design was beneficial to people living in apartments or working in offices, who did not want to hear their neighbors. This design was also popular in concert halls, auditoriums, and recording studios.
  2. Sound Attenuation: A lighter, more porous material, was mounted with a gap before the concrete.  The lighter and softer material allowed sound to pass through the ceiling. This method was ideal for large gathering spaces where many people congregated and to create a significant amount of noise, such as a church or a school.

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Who Was Exposed to Asbestos in Acoustic Plaster?

If you look up and see a popcorn texture on your ceiling, you may currently be at risk for asbestos exposure.

The only way to confirm the presence of asbestos in any decorative or acoustic plaster is to have a sample analyzed. It’s not necessary if the plaster is in good condition and there are no plans for renovation or remodeling. As long as the asbestos is bound up in the building material, no fibers are released.

Even taking a sample can release some fibers, so it’s best to have a certified professional inspect and sample the area.

MJN Brief

Asbestos does not pose a health risk as long as it remains undisturbed. Usually, the plaster has to be drilled or heated before the fibers disperse into the air. Plaster, however, is not a very durable material. Over time, it is likely to crack and break apart, releasing microscopic particles of asbestos into the living space.

While it’s hazardous to live in a space with acoustic plaster, it’s much more dangerous to work to install or demolish the material.

During the process of mixing the plaster, a worker could easily inhale enough particles to develop a disease such as mesothelioma. When workers spray the material in the application process, the particles become airborne, providing yet another opportunity for inhalation.

EPA banned asbestos as a construction material in 1973, but it did not take existing products off the market. Additionally, acoustic plaster and finishes were exempt from the ban and continued to exist a ceiling finish for another decade.

Health Risks of Asbestos in Acoustic Plaster

Asbestos fibers found in acoustic plaster are invisible to the human eye and are small enough to pass through protective dust masks.

When inhaled, the fibers can become embedded in the lining of the lungs, where they can cause many health issues, including chronic phlegm, coughing, and asbestosis. The fibers can lie dormant in the lungs for up to 50 years after the initial exposure and develop into cancerous tumors known as mesothelioma.

Frequent and long-term exposure, such as that experienced by anyone with a work history of installing acoustic plaster, poses a significantly higher risk of eventually developing mesothelioma.

Access Asbestos Trust Funds

Compensation for treatment, loss of income and other damages is available through Asbestos Trust Funds. Workers with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses may qualify.

Find Out If You Qualify

Seeking Justice for Asbestos Exposure

For anyone who has a long work history of installing acoustic plaster, or for anyone involved in the demolition of old buildings containing asbestos-based acoustic plaster, the risks of developing an asbestos-related disease could be high.

If you have worked with asbestos in acoustic plaster and you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be eligible for financial compensation. Contact the Justice Support team today by calling us at (888) 360-4215. Or sign up to receive our FREE Mesothelioma Justice Guide to understand your next steps as a mesothelioma victim.

View Author and Sources
Sources
  1. Asbestos Global, “Asbestos in Acoustical Plaster”, Retrieved from http://www.stucconews.net/column/asbestos.html. Accessed on June 6, 2018
  2. Yale University Office of Environmental Health & Safety, “Asbestos Content in Walls and Ceiling Plasters in Buildings in Buildings Built Between 1880 and 1980”, Retrieved from http://www.oehs2.com/documents/AIHCE2000Plaster.pdf. Accessed on June 6, 2018
  3. Gandee Consulting Engineers, “Hazardous Building Materials in Construction”, Retrieved from https://www.gandee.net/museum. Accessed on June 6, 2018
  4. InspectAPedia, “Asbestos Content in Plaster”, Retrieved from https://inspectapedia.com/hazmat/Asbestos-in-Plaster.php. Accessed on June 6, 2018
  5. Stucco News, “The Truth About Asbestos in Plaster”, Retrieved from http://www.stucconews.net/column/asbestos.html. Accessed on June 6, 2018.

Last modified: June 22, 2018