Insulation and Asbestos Exposure

Every building construction project across America always used insulation products. That included fixed structures like homes, schools, offices and factories as well as mobile vehicles such as cars, trucks, ships and aircraft. Insulation served two purposes. One was to keep heat in and the cold out. The second was insulating areas for acoustic control and fireproofing.

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 For most of the twentieth century, American builders relied on asbestos-containing materials (ACM) for all insulation requirements. This choice proved to be a mistake that turned deadly.

Asbestos was thermally inert meaning it doesn’t transfer heat or cold well. Asbestos was also fireproof, and these properties let asbestos serve both roles of heat and fire control. As well, asbestos was chemically stable and didn’t react when blended with other substances. Asbestos wouldn’t conduct electricity making it ideal for insulating electric wires and cables. Then asbestos was non-corrosive, widely available and inexpensive.

It’s no wonder asbestos became a favorite. That was until the mid-1980s when the worst kept secret leaked out. For decades, asbestos manufacturers and suppliers were well aware of long-term health hazards resulting from asbestos exposure. Even government officials were warned about asbestos health risks but failed to act.

Insulation manufacturing was a massive industry with significant money at stake. So, unscrupulous asbestos product makers refused to disclose the deadly effects airborne asbestos fibers caused. Many people in the asbestos supply and end-user chain also knew how workers like insulation installers faced health risks from asbestos exposure. All were complicit in conspiring to endanger lives of those working with asbestos insulation products and other ACM.

Insulation Products Containing Asbestos Materials

Asbestos-containing materials comprised almost all insulation products used in the United States from the early 1900s until the 80s. Then the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) banned asbestos in insulation products.

There were four main types or applications of ACM insulation. They included:

  • Loose-fill asbestos insulation: These were the most commonly used ACM insulation products. Loose-fill materials trapped air which retained warmth and deterred heat transfer to cold exterior environments in the winter. They also acted in reverse during hot summer days. Loose fill was the choice for building floors, walls and attics. Thirty million American homes built before the 1980s contain asbestos insulation. The most common brand was Zolonite made by the W.R. Grace Company. It contained terribly-toxic tremolite asbestos fibers.
  • Rigid block insulation: These ACM insulation products were purchased in bulk stock then cut and fit in place. Rigid asbestos insulation created foundation walls and steel structures. Block ACM was popular in shipbuilding as it served for heat, fire and acoustic control.
  • Insulation wrappings: Thousands of miles of American pipes remain wrapped in insulation made from asbestos. Pipe wrappings were in every ship built in the U.S. as well as factories, power plants and oil refineries. Pipe wrap insulation was flexible and often came as air-cell asbestos material covered in asbestos paper
  • Spray-on insulation: Asbestos materials blended well with other chemical products. Asbestos was mixed with bonding agents and sprayed onto surfaces under high pressure. This technique was ideal for irregular surfaces like steel beams and ship hulls. Most spray-on asbestos insulation contained 80 to 85 percent asbestos fibers.

Asbestos Insulation Products and Mesothelioma

Did You Know?

Mesothelioma Justice Network Brief

Every worker who manufactured, installed or maintained insulation products containing asbestos materials experienced high health risks for inhaling airborne asbestos particles. Once ACM insulation was in place, covered up and left alone, it was relatively harmless. Handling or later disturbing asbestos insulation presented the health danger and the chance of developing mesothelioma.


Mesothelioma is a deadly form of lung cancer. The cause of these tumors is long-term asbestos exposure. Any time asbestos insulation products were disturbed, they shed microscopic fibers filling the air. Workers who inhaled asbestos fibers had these tiny shards embed in their lung lining which is called the mesothelium. Asbestos fibers permanently attached to their mesothelium and created scar tissue. There was a 10 to 50 year latency period, but eventually, the mass turns to tumors and the fatal disease called mesothelioma.

Compensation for Mesothelioma Victims

Later-stage, aggressive mesothelioma is not treatable. The only just recourse is compensating mesothelioma victims by taking legal action against negligent asbestos insulation material suppliers. Mesothelioma victims can collect compensation for medical expenses, income loss and punitive damages. Families can apply on behalf of mesothelioma victims or file lawsuits for wrongful death claims.

Author:Stephanie Kidd

Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network

Stephanie Kidd

Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

Last modified: May 22, 2019

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