Paint and Asbestos Exposure

We paint every conceivable type of building, vehicle and vessel. Cars tend to be brightly painted and so are road signs. You name it, and it’s been painted. Each different type of surface requires a unique types of paint and thousands of different paint blends were mixed over the centuries.

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Something most paints had in common during the twentieth century was they contained lethal amounts of asbestos.

Most people know that lead-based paints are dangerous. Thankfully lead paints are now obsolete. So is asbestos paint. However, from the early 1900s until the 1980s, millions of American homes and vehicle painters used paints containing asbestos additives. The shipbuilding industry was particularly guilty of applying asbestos paint.

Reasons for Using Asbestos in Paint

There were good reasons for putting asbestos in paint, originally. First, asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral filler that was widely available and dirt cheap. That alone made the paint industry flock to asbestos. Next, asbestos was stable and gave increased tensile strength to paint products and improved their holding power. Then asbestos was lightweight, fireproof, excellent insulation, non-corrosive, chemically inert and didn’t conduct electricity.

The paint industry thought they’d discovered a miracle product when someone first thought of adding an asbestos powder to paint mixes. It was initially a filler that gave paint extra body, but painters soon realized that asbestos materials allowed liquid paint to flow well and stay stable in hot and cold temperatures. Asbestos additives also let color pigments remain suspended so that once mixed frequent re-stirring was unnecessary.

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Most commercial paint mixes contained between 10 and 20 percent of raw asbestos powder. But many painters did mixed paints on site and bought raw asbestos fibers to stir in themselves. Bags of asbestos powder were as standard as brushes in most painters’ kits. No one told these early painters just how dangerous asbestos exposure was.


Paint and Airborne Asbestos Exposure

Everyone in the paint industry who used asbestos paint additives was at risk of airborne asbestos exposure. That included factory and field workers. Asbestos is only dangerous when it’s in a raw fiber form or dried additive to the paint. Once the asbestos paint was applied and dried, it was relatively stable and safe.

But disturb dried asbestos paint, and tiny microscopic fibers are released. Asbestos fibers are extraordinarily light and frequently go airborne. This process happens when painters sanded old asbestos paints from surfaces which occurred all the time. Other workers would disturb asbestos-painted surfaces during renovations and demolitions.

It wasn’t just house painters that preferred asbestos paints. Practically every construction project and manufacturing industry applied asbestos paint in the seven decades they were available.

Some industries using asbestos paint included:

  • Automotive factories used asbestos paint because it was durable and non-corrosive.
  • Aircraft assemblers found asbestos paint lightweight and aerodynamically smooth.
  • Shipbuilders coated vessels with asbestos paint because it was fireproof, didn’t rust, insulated well and controlled sound.
  • Chemical plants needed inert paints that didn’t react with materials and asbestos paint did that perfectly.
  • Interior decorators loved asbestos paints for their textured walls and popcorn ceilings so popular in the 60s and 70s.

Asbestos Paint and Mesothelioma

By the 1930s, warnings about asbestos exposure from all building materials crept out. That included cautions about using asbestos-based paint as well as over 3,000 other products containing asbestos. By the mid-1980s, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) put an end to asbestos use in paint and practically every other manufactured product.

Despite early warnings, asbestos producers and paint suppliers intentionally hid information about airborne asbestos exposure health risks. Today, asbestos is well known to have lethal effects from long-term exposure to asbestos fibers. Sadly, millions of painters used asbestos paint to paint American homes, trains, planes and automobiles.

When a person inhales asbestos fibers, the fibers attach to the lung lining, which is called the mesothelium. Asbestos fibers never release. They stay in the mesothelium for the rest of the individual’s life and eventually create scar tissue. There’s an extended latency period, but ultimately, scar tissue turns to tumors and becomes the deadly disease mesothelioma.

Compensation for Mesothelioma Victims

Mesothelioma is a fatal form of lung cancer. Advanced stages of mesothelioma are incurable. Instead, seek compensation for victims to cover medical expenses, lost time and personal injury. Family members can claim compensation for mesothelioma victims. They can also file wrongful death lawsuits.

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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