Asbestos was used in many types of commercial and residential construction projects before the 1980s. Carpenters frequently handled asbestos-containing products and were exposed to airborne asbestos fibers in dusty construction environments. Carpenters who were exposed to asbestos are at a high risk of developing asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma.

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Carpenters and Asbestos Exposure

Carpenters are usually the first in and last out on every construction project. Because carpenters are versatile constructors, they remain at the construction site from the foundation through to the finish. They’re present during every construction stage and exposed to the hundreds of materials used in building assembly.

Although the main role of carpenters is working with wood frame and finish products, they handle practically every product involved in building construction.

Even if carpenters didn’t work directly with a particular material, they worked adjacent to others installing these materials on industrial, commercial, and residential construction projects. Many of these construction materials contained asbestos.

Carpenters are in the highest asbestos exposure risk group of all construction tradespeople. Many carpenters experienced continual and prolonged exposure to large quantities of asbestos dust.

How Carpenters Were Exposed to Asbestos

Continuous cutting, sawing, and sanding activities create dusty environments on construction sites. Carpenters constantly inhale and ingest large quantities of dust.

In the 20th century, materials containing asbestos were disturbed during installation and building demolition. This released microscopic asbestos fibers into the air surrounding a carpenter’s workspace.

Construction carpenters involved in the installation weren’t the only woodworkers exposed to asbestos. Many carpenters were employed in renovation and demolition projects where asbestos materials were ripped out and destroyed. This was just as hazardous as installing new asbestos products.

Asbestos contamination didn’t stop at the job site. Many carpenters came home covered in asbestos dust. This polluted their homes and put their families at risk of asbestos exposure, including their wives who did their laundry.

Many carpenters were unaware of the asbestos risk. Those who suspected dangers often only wore dust masks, which are not effective in preventing asbestos inhalation or ingestion. Proper respirators are the only defense against asbestos fibers and dust.

Dangers of Asbestos Were Concealed

Asbestos became a common construction material in the 1920s. It was widely used until the 1980s when the dangers of asbestos exposure became well-known.

However, it wasn’t a sudden discovery breakthrough that changed how the construction industry used asbestos-containing products. Many asbestos product suppliers were well aware of the dangers but chose to hide it.

Asbestos Products Used in Carpentry

Wood frames and finishes were standard materials in all construction classifications for several hundred years. Steel studs and concrete components gradually replaced wood in industrial and commercial sites, but wood is still the backbone of homebuilding.

During the 20th century evolution, carpenters changed roles to handle products other than wood. Many of these products contained asbestos.

These are the most common asbestos-containing products carpenters were exposed to:

  • Adhesives, glues, and bonding agents
  • Cement powder and masonry dust
  • Cabinet liners and particle board components
  • Insulation used in walls, ceilings, and floors
  • Fireproof lining in brick fireplaces
  • Flooring underlayment
  • Roofing shingles and felts
  • Plumbing pipe wraps
  • Wallboard products, including drywall, joint compound, and tape

Carpenters Careers

Carpenters are trade qualified or ticketed professionals specializing in construction areas where wood is used. Skilled carpenters have years of experience. Typically, carpenters start as construction laborers and progress through apprentice stages before becoming journeymen.

Carpenters are considered highly skilled tradesmen, often employed in these roles and careers:

  • Framers who cut and install wood beams, joists, studs, rafters, and sheathing
  • Finishers who make and install doors, windows, moldings, and trim pieces
  • Formers who build concrete forms for foundations
  • Floorlayers who install hardwood floors and other flooring materials
  • Specialty carpenters who build cabinets and manufacture fine finishings
  • Heavy construction carpenters who build bridges and towers
  • General carpenters who carry out other tasks like insulating and roofing

Carpenter careers often cross different construction boundaries. During a carpenter’s career, they may work on thousands of projects ranging from quick and simple jobs to long and complex ones.

There are three primary industry classifications employing carpenters:

  • Industrial Construction: Factories and other manufacturing plants
  • Commercial Construction: Schools and office buildings
  • Residential Construction: Houses and multi-family projects

Carpenters may have been exposed to asbestos in any one of these careers or industry classifications. Asbestos was widely used in all kinds of industrial, commercial and residential applications.

Carpenter Health Risks

Every carpenter exposed to asbestos dust is at serious risk of developing mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer only caused by inhaling tiny airborne asbestos fibers that become lodged in the lung lining (pleura). Embedded fibers can remain dormant for decades before triggering the formation of cancer cells and tumor growth.

Asbestos can also enter the body by being ingested into the digestive system, causing peritoneal mesothelioma that affects the abdominal cavity.

A carpenter’s degree of risk depends on the type of asbestos they were exposed to, the amount of dust inhaled or ingested, and the duration of exposure.

Carpenters were normally exposed to two types of asbestos. Chrysotile, or white asbestos, was the most common. Chrysotile is dangerous but less risky than amphibole asbestos, which is highly hazardous.

Help for Mesothelioma Victims

Carpenters who developed mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases may be entitled to financial compensation.

This compensation may include payments for personal injury, medical expenses, and lost income. It may also involve punitive damages against negligent asbestos product suppliers. Families have also successfully sued companies on behalf of victimized relatives through personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits.

The Mesothelioma Justice Network has legal resources available to carpenters. Learn more about how we can help.

Author:Stephanie Kidd

Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network

Stephanie Kidd

Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

Last modified: August 27, 2019

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