Those who worked as painters prior to the 1980s are among those in construction trades likely to have suffered from asbestos exposure at some point in their career. This applies not only to house painters, incidentally; those who have worked as painters in an artistic capacity may also have been exposed as well, depending on the medium in which they typically worked.
Working With Colors
Despite the fact that a coat of paint, skillfully applied, can greatly improve the appearance of virtually anything, industrial paints usually contain a veritable “witches’ brew” of toxic chemical substances. These include petroleum solvents, toluene, xylene, ketones, alcohols, esters and glycol ethers.
Asbestos has been used in the past as a paint “filler;” it has also been an ingredient in textured and “fireproof” paints. In addition, asbestos was common in areas and situations where painters typically worked; spackling and taping compounds often contained asbestos. Asbestos cement siding was another common building material for several decades; painting such siding requires a certain amount of skill and training in order to be done without unnecessarily releasing asbestos fibers.
Painters who worked aboard sea-going vessels had it even worse; aboard ships constructed prior to the 1980s, there were few places below decks where asbestos was not applied in abundance. Asbestos insulation was used in virtually every part of ship construction after the S.S. Morro Castle fire tragedy that occurred in September of 1934.
What Constitutes ACM Paint
According to federal regulations, paint (and anything else) is considered to have ACM (Asbestos-Containing Material) only if it totals more than 1% of the total content of the product. This is known as the “Grace Rule;” it was so named because the legislation on behalf of W.R. Grace & Company, which was at one time possibly the largest asbestos company in the U.S. after Johns-Manville.
An analysis of data by the International Association for Cancer Research showed that the risk of cancer in general for painters was 20% more than that of the public at large; when it came to lung cancer, the figure was closer to 40%, even when tobacco use was taken into consideration.
Specific Consequences of Asbestos Exposure
Typically, asbestos diseases such as asbestosis or mesothelioma do not manifest symptoms until many years after the initial exposure to the substance. How quickly these symptoms appear and their level of severity depends on the type of asbestos, the amount of concentration, and the length of exposure.
There are two types of asbestos fibers; the most common is serpentine, which includes chrysotile (white asbestos). Less common is amphibole, which includes commonly-used forms of asbestos such as amosite (brown asbestos), crocidolite (blue asbestos) and tremolite. Despite the color connotations, these fibers were never used as pigments, but did have specific applications.
Serpentine chrysotile fibers are softer and curl-shaped. This is the type of asbestos used in most fireproof construction materials. One series of toxicology reports from a scientist working in Switzerland suggests that chrysotile fibers are somehow harmless; according to the reports published by the Chrysotile Institute and the North American Insulation Manufacturer’s Association, these fibers eventually break down inside the body.
Medical researchers at the Mount Sinai Hospital and University of California Schools of medicine have found a great deal of evidence to the contrary, however. According to actual medical studies, chrysotile asbestos fibers are as deadly as the rigid, spear-shaped amphibole type; they simply act more slowly in causing asbestos cancer and other related illnesses.
Chrysotile was frequently contaminated with tremolite, which had virtually no commercial uses. Amosite and crocidolite have much greater tensile strength and resistance to acids and other corrosive chemicals, and thus were commonly used in chemical plants. Because of the extreme danger of amphibole fibers however, these two forms of asbestos have largely been banned.