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.
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.