Asbestos Exposure in Plasterers

Plasterers mix and apply plaster to ceilings, walls, and partitions to help hold these structures intact and provide a beautiful aesthetic. In the 1920s, many manufacturers began adding asbestos to their plasters, resulting in deadly health consequences for plasterers.

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Plasterers and Asbestos Exposure

Plasterers are craftsmen and women who apply plaster, stucco, or other similar materials to building interiors or exteriors. Unfortunately, their work may put them in direct contact with asbestos, a cancer-causing material.

Plaster is made up of 3 materials:

  • A cement
  • A fiber
  • An aggregate

When combined using the right amounts, these 3 substances create plaster, which can be used to hold brick, stone, and other materials together.

The cement is typically comprised of gypsum or lime, while the aggregate is sand, mica, or pumices. Historically, fibers came from animals like pigs and cattle but were replaced with asbestos in the 1920s.

Asbestos has many qualities that hair doesn’t share, including soundproofing, fireproofing, water-resistance, and durability, making it a more desirable ingredient for construction projects.

Did You Know?

Plasterers Faced Daily Exposure

It took another 50 years for the dangers of asbestos to become known, long after asbestos was established as a common ingredient in plaster. In that time, many plasterers worked with asbestos-containing plaster for hours per day, every single day, routinely exposing them to the dangerous substance.

In fact, plasterers are exposed to asbestos every time they work with it or around it. Dry forms of asbestos are more likely to become airborne and present a health risk to plasterers.

Mixing dry plaster or cutting into dried plaster can release asbestos fibers into the air. Other construction workers may also disrupt asbestos during their work with other asbestos-containing materials, such as insulation, accidentally exposing workers.

Even today, some plaster workers may come into contact with asbestos when they work on older homes. It’s critical that plaster workers take precautions whenever they are cutting, sanding, removing, or disrupting asbestos-containing materials in homes built before the mid to late 1980s.

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Roles and Responsibilities

Some plasterers specialize in a specific type of plasterwork, like residential or ornamental, while others master plaster application for many purposes.

Plasterers may go by a few job titles, including: 

  • Acoustic plasterer
  • Applicator
  • Artisan plasterer
  • Mortarer
  • Plastering contractor
  • Plaster mechanic
  • Stucco mason

Plaster applicators are usually responsible for prepping their work area, mixing the plaster or mortar, applying it using brushes, trowels, or spray guns, and then ensuring it sets properly. Once all their tasks are completed, they dispose of any garbage and tidy up their workspace.

In older homes, plaster workers may have to remove existing plaster or modify the decorations.

The majority of plaster applicators work for larger drywall or construction companies, while others are independent contractors or artists. Most plasterers learn on the job, typically being mentored by more experienced workers until they are ready to work alone.

Plasterers and Mesothelioma

When plaster workers and other people inhale asbestos fibers, they are at risk of developing serious health problems, including mesothelioma — an aggressive asbestos-caused cancer.

After a worker inhales asbestos fibers, those fibers can become lodged in the soft lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen. Because asbestos fibers are sharp and made of hard minerals, it’s easy for the fibers to puncture the lining and get embedded.

Once stuck, there is no way for the body to fibers.

Did You Know?

How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma

Over time, lodged asbestos fibers can disrupt surrounding healthy cells, eventually mutating them into cancerous mesothelioma cells. These mesothelioma cells then multiply and form tumors that spread to distant sites.

To further complicate matters, mesothelioma is extraordinarily difficult to detect in its early stages. It doesn’t cause symptoms until 20-50 years after initial exposure.

By the time it’s diagnosed, it’s usually in an advanced stage, making it harder to treat thoroughly. As a result, mesothelioma has a high mortality rate and is considered one of the deadliest forms of cancer.

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Compensation for treatment, loss of income, and other damages is available through Asbestos Trust Funds. Mesothelioma patients and veterans with asbestos-related illnesses may qualify.

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Compensation for Plasterers

Some plaster manufacturing companies continued to use asbestos even after the health risks were known. Their negligence has resulted in devastating health impacts, and it’s not fair to workers who simply tried to make an honest living.

If you’ve developed mesothelioma as a result of your work with asbestos-containing plaster, you may qualify for legal compensation.

Our Justice Support Team can help you connect to legal resources, and also explore your medical treatment options. See all the ways we help mesothelioma victims.

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: September 18, 2019

View 5 Sources
  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Data for Occupations Not Covered in Detail,” Retrieved from Accessed on June 24, 2018.
  2. O-Net Online, “Plasterers and Stucco Masons,” Retrieved from: Accessed on June 24, 2018.
  3. Health & Safety Laboratory, “Airborne fiber concentration during the removal of asbestos…” Retrieved from Accessed on June 24, 2018.
  4. Construction Industry Building Board, “Health and Safety Advice for Plasterers,” Retrieved from: Accessed on June 24, 2018.
  5. Safe Air Contractors Inc, “What is asbestos plaster and is it still around today?” Retrieved from: Accessed on June 24, 2018.
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