Brick and Stonemasons and Asbestos Exposure
Brick and stone construction is an ancient craft requiring great skill. Masons working with natural stone and craftspeople laying manufactured bricks and blocks need meticulous patience to assemble piles of rubble into magnificent projects.
These professionals also require impressive stamina as they usually work outdoors and at varying heights.
Although stonemasons and bricklayers use different skills, they do similar work. Both create structures using bricks or stones held together with mortar — a cement paste that historically contained asbestos.
Bricklaying and masonry workers are considered moderate risks for illnesses caused by asbestos exposure.
Good Ventilation Prevented Severe Asbestos Exposure Risks
Masons and bricklayers had a lower risk of exposure than other tradespeople who directly handled asbestos-contaminated building products, such as floor layers and insulators. This is because brick and stonemasons usually worked outdoors with good ventilation.
How Brick and Stonemasons Were Exposed to Asbestos
Until the 1980s, manufacturers and masonry workers typically mixed asbestos into cement powder for added strength and durability. The addition of asbestos gave mortar better holding power and provided superior fire and heat resistance in chimneys.
Brick and stonemasons were exposed to airborne asbestos fibers in the following ways:
- When dry cement powder was added to concrete mixes, asbestos particles in the cement powder formed hazardous dust clouds.
- Cutting bricks and building products containing asbestos created asbestos-contaminated dust.
- Demolishing old masonry and brick structures released asbestos into the air. Old mortar is very dry and brittle, allowing asbestos materials to crumble into a fine powder.
- Masons and bricklayers were often exposed to other building materials on construction sites. The tradesmen worked on sites for long periods while other asbestos-contaminated materials were being installed.