Adding asbestos to the composition of paper products gives them a high degree of heat/fire resistance and acoustical properties. Thermal paper is also thin, lightweight and easy to cut and bend making it the perfect candidate for countless applications in building trades and mechanical assemblies.
The most common uses of thermal paper products include wrapping to provide insulation around pipes, as machinery gaskets, in electrical insulation, and as backing for fiberboard. Most are not marked as containing asbestos.Prior to the mid-1980’s, asbestos embedded papers and tapes were widely used in home construction and many of those products remain in place today.
The valued nature of paper products, the ability to tear, bend and crease them, also creates circumstances ideal for the release of asbestos fibers asbestosis.
It is impossible to tell if thermal paper products contain asbestos unless they are clearly labeled. Left completely undisturbed, these papers are generally harmless. However, care should be taken to not bump or touch old thermal papers lest they crack and release fibers into the air. Thermal papers should never be cut away or removed by the property owner. When renovation or remodeling work is planned, papers on fiberboard and around pipes should be tested for asbestos content and removed appropriately by a trained and certified asbestos remediation contractor.
Workers in thermal paper production plants and those who work with those products are at obvious risk for asbestos related cancers and illnesses. However, there are many workers receiving more passive exposure. Studies have revealed that elementary school teachers and hospital workers are also at elevated risk because of the extensive use of thermal paper products on their work environment. Notably, family members who might inhale fibers brought home on the clothing of those workers are at the highest risk.
Mesothelioma and other asbestos related illnesses may not become apparent for as many as 40 years beyond the exposure to the friable asbestos released from thermal paper products. Anyone who is aware of a past exposure should receive regular medical monitoring since these illnesses are most treatable at onset.