Vinyl Wallpaper and Asbestos Exposure

Summary

Wallpaper was a common décor product for a hundred year period from the Victorian era through to the late 1900's. Like many fads, wallpaper phased out for several decades, but it’s made a comeback for brightening homes and offices.

Quality wallpaper needed to do more than look good. It had to be sturdy, washable and inexpensive enough for mass-market consumption. Vinyl materials were wallpaper’s savior. And up until the mid-1980s, wallpaper manufacturers thought they had the perfect additive. They used asbestos fibers in vinyl wallpaper rolls.

Asbestos fibers gave vinyl wallpaper more strength and flexibility than ordinary wallpaper with a paper backing. Asbestos lightened the wallpaper rolls creating less strain on finished surfaces. Asbestos additives made wallpaper fire resistant. That was a safety bonus in residential and commercial applications. Asbestos was a natural insulator and acoustical control. It was also durable, washable and held its manufactured color and pattern indefinitely.

Asbestos Use in Vinyl Wallpaper

Asbestos was readily available and easily sourced. This miracle material was non-corrosive and non-conductive. Asbestos was chemically inert, so it mixed well with vinyl resins composed of ethylene and chlorine. Asbestos fibers were pliable, and that allowed wallpaper hangers to work alone rather than needing a second pair of installing hands.

And there was one more bonus. Asbestos was the cheapest additive available for vinyl wallpaper.

Millions of homes had asbestos-based wallpaper hanging in rooms like:

  • Kitchens and baths.
  • Laundry areas.
  • Dining rooms, living rooms and bedrooms.
  • Recreation rooms, dens and home offices.
  • Children’s playrooms and nurseries.

Accompanying asbestos-based vinyl wallpaper in American homes and public buildings was a host of other asbestos materials. Asbestos-based floor and ceiling tiles were popular. So were asbestos-based drywall, joint compound and paints. Asbestos insulation kept everyone warm while asbestos-wrapped pipes and electrical wires kept them safe. And asbestos roofing, siding and brick material kept them dry. Asbestos-containing materials (ACM) encased entire American homes and offices. Asbestos wallpaper just made them prettier.

Vinyl Wallpaper and Asbestos Exposure

When asbestos wallpaper was hung and left alone, it was harmless. That’s until it became old and brittle. Dried ACM in vinyl wallpaper broke down and crumbled. This friable state turned to dust and released millions of microscopic asbestos fibers into the rooms and duct systems.

Many homes with forced-air heating systems were particularly vulnerable to having friable asbestos fibers in the atmosphere. Areas near floor or ceiling registers had constant temperature changes. This dried ACM wallpaper as well as ACM drywall which delaminated, crumbled and spewed tiny particles that were inhaled by every occupant.

It wasn’t only residential and commercial occupants at-risk for airborne asbestos fiber exposure. Factory workers who manufactured ACM vinyl wallpaper had exposure when working with the raw asbestos material. Wallpaper installers had to cut and fit ACM wallpaper exposing airborne particles in their workspace.

And then there were renovators, remodelers and demolition contractors who tore off and disposed of old ACM wallpaper. Each contact with airborne asbestos materials had a danger. Fortunately, the vinyl wallpaper industry predominantly used chrysotile asbestos fibers rather than the more dangerous amphibole asbestos fiber group.

MJN Brief

By the 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency banned asbestos materials in wallpaper. Although no longer manufactured, thousands of ACM wallpaper rolls remained in stock for years and sold to the public. And then there’s the problem of millions of old homes with asbestos wallpaper just waiting for do-it-yourself renovations that TV programs make look so easy.

Mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure from Vinyl Wallpaper

Asbestos exposure is the only cause of the deadly lung cancer disease called mesothelioma. Everyone who inhaled airborne asbestos fibers is at risk of developing mesothelioma. When asbestos particles enter the lungs, they stick to the lining which is called the mesothelium. Eventually, scar tissues form that turn cancerous.

There is no known cure for advanced mesothelioma cases. Latency periods can last from 10 to 50 years so anyone exposed to asbestos wallpaper or other asbestos fiber sources back in the 1960s could be a victim of mesothelioma about to happen. Once a doctor hands out a mesothelioma diagnosis, it’s often too late for a favorable prognosis for the victim.

Compensation for Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma victims can file compensation claims against negligent manufacturers who supplied vinyl wallpaper or other products containing asbestos materials. Compensation includes payment for personal injury damages, punitive awards, lost income and medical expenses. Families can claim for members suffering from mesothelioma. They can also file wrongful death lawsuits.