Drywall Tapers

Asbestos was used in drywall boards, joint compounds, and drywall tape before it was widely known as hazardous to human health. For drywall tapers, the risk of asbestos exposure was high. Drywall tapers worked directly with asbestos-containing materials, inhaling asbestos fibers in dusty construction environments daily for years on end.

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Drywall Tapers and Asbestos Exposure

Drywall — also known as sheetrock, gypsum board, and gyprock — is a universal building product. No matter what you call it, you’re sure to be surrounded by this standard building material on a daily basis.

Drywall is used in residential, commercial and industrial buildings. Millions of square feet of drywall are hung, taped, and finished every year across America.

For many years, drywall boards, joint compound, and tape were all made with asbestos.

Drywall is not exactly a dry product like the name suggests. Finishing drywall involves sealing the joints between drywall boards in a process called taping. Drywall tapers apply wet joint compound and tape, then sand it smooth when dry. This creates a lot of dust.

Back when drywall contained asbestos, every taper was exposed to airborne asbestos fibers. Asbestos exposure occurred all day long, and some drywallers worked in asbestos-polluted environments for years.

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Highest Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Historically, drywall tapers were in the highest risk group of all construction trades for asbestos exposure.

How Drywall Tapers Were Exposed to Asbestos

Anyone familiar with drywall work knows how dusty it gets. Cutting and hanging wallboard produces concentrated clouds of dust that linger in the surrounding environment. Additional airborne gypsum dust is produced during the multiple sanding stages that follow.

At some stages of drywall installation, it can be nearly impossible to see or breathe as the rooms are thick with dust.

Until the late 20th century, the dust produced during drywall installation and taping contained hazardous asbestos.

Asbestos fibers are incredibly lightweight. When the particles detach from a stable product, like drywall board, they become airborne very easily. Drywall tapers constantly disturbed asbestos fibers by cutting, mixing and sanding, putting them at risk of inhaling and ingesting the fibers floating in their work environment.

Drywall tapers were exposed to asbestos off the job site as well. Asbestos followed them home after contaminating their clothes, vehicles and tool kits. Deadly asbestos fibers were also a hazard to workers’ family members, friends, and neighbors.

Asbestos Used in Drywall Installation

From the 1950s to the late 1980s, gypsum wallboard, drywall tape, and plaster joint compound all contained asbestos. It was the industry standard to add asbestos to every component of drywall material.

Asbestos appeared to be the best substance for manufacturing and applying drywall because it was both inexpensive and plentiful.

Asbestos made the ideal drywall filler as it was light, fireproof, aided sound control, and acted as an efficient insulator. Asbestos was also stable, giving tapers greater control over their work.

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Thousands came into contact with asbestos on a regular basis. Get a free legal case review to find out if you may have been exposed.

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Drywall Taper Careers

Typically, drywallers specialize in either wallboard installation or product finishing—these tradesmen were called hangers and tapers in the industry. Drywall hanging is a heavy, exhausting job while taping requires finesse and patience.

Drywall sheets are hung after all mechanical systems are installed in a building, hiding unsightly wiring, pipes, and ducts.

Once the boards are up, tapers move in and seal the seams with special adhesive tape. Then, tapers apply several coats of joint compound to blend the tape and fill imperfections.

Drywall tapers have specific roles and responsibilities. Their duties are routine and repetitious, but without skilled tapers, the finished product would be a mess.

The roles of a drywall taper include:

  • Covering gypsum wallboard seams with rolled tape dampened in a plaster solution
  • Filling nail holes and indentations with drywall joint compound
  • Sanding smooth between coats and repeating the filling
  • Fanning or blending joints for an even surface
  • Applying textures to ceilings and feature walls
  • Inspecting for flaws with a high-intensity light

Drywall is a product that evolved from the old lath and plaster process. Before World War II, most building interior walls were finished with wooden lath slats covered in wet plaster. Wood laths eventually gave way to gypsum-based boards covered by paper.

During the post-war construction boom, drywall became popular because it was cheap, quick to install and produced perfectly smooth surfaces.

Today’s joint compounds are still plaster-based — a mixture of gypsum, lime, and cement. While modern polymer additives allow for better curing times and mixing ease, the primary products are still similar.

However, drywall materials no longer contain asbestos as they once did.

Drywall Taper Health Risks

Every drywall taper who worked with products containing asbestos — even decades ago — is at risk of developing mesothelioma.

The risk to an individual worker increases with their level of asbestos exposure and the amount of time they spent in an asbestos-contaminated environment.

The risk of developing mesothelioma also depends on the type of asbestos material a drywall taper handled. Chrysotile, or white asbestos, is hazardous to the health of anyone exposed to it. Amphibole asbestos is considered deadly.

Construction worksites were hotbeds for asbestos. Drywall tapers were exposed to many other asbestos-containing products like cement, flooring, roofing, and even cabinets.

Asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma in any construction employees working in a building where asbestos drywall was being installed.

Help for Mesothelioma Victims

Drywall tapers that develop mesothelioma after working with asbestos-containing drywall materials may be eligible for compensation to pay for medical expenses and lost income.

Mesothelioma victims can also seek punitive damages and wrongful death claims against negligent manufacturers who knowingly supplied hazardous asbestos products to workers.

For more information on seeking justice for asbestos exposure as a drywall taper, contact our Justice Support Team today.

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: October 24, 2019

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