We are probably most familiar with asbestos due to its widespread use as building insulation in the 1900s. However, asbestos was also an extremely popular addition to plaster walling for its added insulation and fire protection benefits. When the dangers of asbestos became more evident over the years, this practice gradually declined. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a regulated or realistic way to ensure that all older buildings using plaster walls were asbestos-free.
Asbestos was commonly added to plaster until the late 1980s, as it was seen as an inexpensive way to add to the plaster’s insulation and fire-retardant properties.
So how do you know if your plaster walls may be putting you at risk for asbestos exposure? Let’s explore when and how asbestos was used in plaster walls and what risks that may pose to individuals today.
How was Asbestos Used in Plaster?
Plaster is a manufactured building material that starts as a thick, pasty mixture of minerals and water and dries into a solid, sturdy form. It is made using a wide variety of recipes depending on the location and application in which the plaster is to be used. For example, asbestos was often used in plaster because of its thermic properties both to insulate and to serve as fire resistance. Plaster is also used functionally as light soundproofing and to provide a polished finish to interior walls, allowing for a more functional and aesthetic look. Other popular forms of plaster that could contain asbestos include cement, plaster of Paris, and lime.
How Exposure to Asbestos in Plaster Walls Occurs
When asbestos-containing plaster walls are disturbed, damaged, aging, moved, or removed, microscopic particles of asbestos become airborne. This increases the immediate risk of asbestos being inhaled and the risk of secondhand exposure by rogue particles hitching a ride on shoes, garments, in cars, and more. When inhaled, the strand-like filaments of asbestos embed themselves in soft lung and throat tissues. Once embedded, they cause continual damage, resulting in life-threatening conditions such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Who is At-Risk
The people most at-risk for past and present exposure to plaster-housed asbestos are:
- Workers who mixed plaster when asbestos was commonly used as an ingredient
- Construction workers, especially those who were responsible for applying plaster walls
- Renovation workers who frequently cut into, drill through, or damage older plaster walls
- Residents living or working in buildings where the plaster has aged enough to break down and crumble, releasing asbestos particles into the air
Do Your Plaster Walls Contain Asbestos?
Without a professional inspection, it can be challenging to determine if your walls contain asbestos. However, there are a few different warning signs you can look out for.
The Build Year
Perhaps one of the most effective ways to determine whether or not your plaster walls may contain asbestos is to find any construction and renovation dates for the building. If the build year is between 1920 and 1990, the risks are very high, so it’s always a good idea to consider hiring a professional to inspect your building materials. If the renovation year of your home falls between 1920 and 2000, it’s also very likely that there could be dangerous levels of asbestos in your plaster walls. In addition, any plaster walls labeled as “fire-rated” are also more likely to contain asbestos.
Known Asbestos-Contaminated Brands
If you have access to the detailed building records of your house’s construction and renovations, you may be able to determine the risk of asbestos contamination just by the brands of plaster used. A few of the known asbestos-contaminated plaster brands and with their production dates include:
- U.S. Gypsum, “Acoustical”: 1920-1975
- National Gypsum, “Gold Bond”: 1935-1975
- Synkoloid, “Synko”: 1950-1976
- Georgia Pacific, “Acoustical” and “Patching”: 1950-1977
Cross-Contamination and Using Older Materials
While asbestos may have been officially banned from the U.S. in 2000, it’s important to remember that cross-contamination of plaster ingredients still poses a threat to modern plaster application. Vermiculite, a popular ingredient for plaster, is one such risk for cross-contamination. Due to asbestos naturally occurring in or near vermiculite deposits, there is always a possibility that mined vermiculite may contain asbestos, even today.
The misuse and application of older, banned plaster building materials can also create a risk for asbestos exposure. Hiring a professional to inspect the property is the only way to be 100% sure about the presence of asbestos. If the inspector finds evidence of asbestos, you will need to reach out for professional removal. It’s imperative to refrain from removing asbestos-containing materials yourself—the professionals are trained to do so safely. You could be putting yourself and your family at extreme risk if you make the decision to take on the task yourself.
What to Do if You Have Been Exposed to Asbestos
If you or a loved one has been, or suspect you have been, exposed to asbestos, it’s vital to seek immediate medical assistance. In addition, if you are suffering from the adverse effects of asbestos exposure, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses and more. Have questions about your options? Contact us today for a free case evaluation—our team of asbestos litigation experts at Cooney and Conway are here to help.