From around 1900 until well into the 1980s, asbestos was a common ingredient in nearly every type of building material. One of the most dangerous asbestos-containing building materials was spackle.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition (Houghton-Mifflin Company, 2000), “spackle” is “…A trademark used for a powder to be mixed with water or a ready-to-use plastic paste designed to fill cracks and holes in plaster before painting or papering.” This trademark has over the decades passed into colloquial English as a generic term used both as a noun and as a verb. A similar product called Polyfilla has long been manufactured, marketed and used in countries of the former British Empire.
What has made spackle especially dangerous is (A) it comes out of the container as a powder, and (B) the fact that asbestos was a common ingredient.
Today, there are brands of spackle available that are advertised as “asbestos free,” but according to the “Grace Rule” passed by Congress at the behest of W.R. Grace & Company in 1973, these “asbestos-free” products may still legally contain 1% asbestos yet continue to be marketed as such.
What is even more dangerous is spackle that was applied in buildings constructed prior to the mid-1980s. In the years prior to 1980, the drywall construction industry was experiencing rapid growth. It was estimated that in 1979 some 75,000 people were employed in this industry. In May of that year, the American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal reported that air samples taken at construction sites where spackle was being used showed “fiber concentrations exceeding, by several times, the maximum level permitted by United States Government regulations .”
This same spackle is frequently encountered during renovation projects. If your home contains “popcorn ceilings,” it is highly probable that asbestos is not only contained in the “popcorn” texturing, but in the spackle underneath. If this is the case, it is recommended that you hire a professional asbestos abatement service.