In the construction and building renovation industry, carpenters are among those who risk exposure to asbestos in the course of doing their jobs. asbestos exposure can cause disabling or fatal diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, gastrointestinal cancer and mesothelioma, a form of asbestos cancer that affects the membranes covering the lungs and body organs. From 1990 to 1999, the most frequently listed industry recorded on U.S. death certificates of asbestosis victims age 15 and older was the construction industry, with 24% of death certificates listing construction; 4.2% of all asbestosis deaths in that age range in the 1990s were carpenters or former carpenters. Likewise, a large number of mesothelioma victims work or worked in construction industry. A 1995 study in the Britain similarly found building workers, including carpenters, to be at greatest risk of contracting malignant mesothelioma.
In addition to its well-known use as a fire-retardant and heat insulator, asbestos was also used as a reinforcing or binding agent in plastics and cement. As such, asbestos was used in building materials including plaster, drywall materials, floor tiles and roofing products, as well as insulation. Carpenters can be exposed to asbestos dust when their work cutting, sanding, drilling or removing building materials containing asbestos releases fibers into the air.
The field of carpentry encompasses people who work in many different kinds of construction activity, from the installation of bookshelves and cabinets to the building of highways and bridges. While most people associate carpenters with wood products, carpenters construct, erect, install, and repair structures and fixtures made from other materials as well. Carpenters may be called upon to install or remove drywall and insulation. Historically, asbestos was most often used in construction, and nearly 70% of asbestos produced now is used in construction, so the risk to carpenters can be high if the hazard is not recognized and if occupational health and safety standards are not enforced. In the U.S., asbestos use in building materials was common before 1980 but was reduced in new construction after that; however, carpenters who do renovation or remodeling work in older building still face the possibility of their work disturbing asbestos fibers. They may also be exposed to asbestos dust created by the activities of other people at the job site, if proper safety precautions aren’t taken. In 2003, a San Francisco court awarded over $5.5 million in the case of carpenter who developed pleural mesothelioma after working with asbestos-containing building products. The wrongful death suit claimed that the plaintiff had been exposed to asbestos in his carpentry work from 1950 to 2002, when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. In the United Kingdom the widow of a carpenter who died after being exposed to asbestos at his work was awarded a large out-of-court settlement in 2005, and a court awarded 400,000 pounds to a carpenter dying of mesothelioma in 2006. Diseases associated with asbestos exposure generally do not appear for 20 or more years after initial exposure, so even people who haven’t worked as a carpenter in many years may still be at risk for developing mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease. Such workers are urged to discuss their possible asbestos exposure with their doctor and to receive regular check-ups for any signs of asbestos-related disease.