Textured coatings are on a long list of asbestos-containing materials that found their way into homes and businesses before supplies were exhausted following federal government regulations in 1978. Applications of coatings known as Artex, acoustical, popcorn and cottage cheese gave a bumpy texture that was conducive to covering up construction flaws and damaged areas on ceilings. Beginning in the 1950’s, their use was widely promoted and became fashionable. Once in place, the textured coatings are relatively safe, although no exposure to asbestos is completely without risk. Removal of, or otherwise disturbing, the coatings is a different story.
Working with textured coatings that contain asbestos fibers must always be undertaken in an informed and careful manner. The risk of inhaling asbestos fibers during application of textured coatings is low since the material is applied in a wet form not conducive to releasing fibers into the air. The real danger to workers and building occupants occurs when the product is manufactured and when it is removed.
If the coating was applied prior to 1985, a sample should be tested for asbestos content. Disturbing the textured coating can create a dust of friable asbestos fibers small enough that they are invisible to the eye. If inhaled, those fibers can lodge into the lungs or abdomen, where they will remain for the rest of the person’s life.
Asbestos fibers that have planted themselves in the body have the potential to create asbestos-related illnesses decades after the exposure occurred. Asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other lung cancers can develop into a symptomatic illness after lying dormant for as many as 40 years after the asbestos fibers were inhaled.
The worst enemy in the bigger picture of asbestos-containing textured coatings is the lack of information. Workers in the plants where textured coatings were produced may not have been appropriately advised of the dangers of their exposure, or even that the materials they were working with contained asbestos. Old applications of coatings that were not tested or received a false negative result may have been removed without protection. Asbestos fibers on the clothing of workers may have caused repeated asbestos exposures to others in their own homes. To make matters worse, those who have been exposed unaware may not receive life-prolonging medical monitoring and advice.