Mesothelioma in Drywall Tapers

Quick Summary

Before World War II, most walls were made from a time-consuming combination of layered plaster and wood. Drywall was the solution to this lengthy process, and the drywall taping trade boomed as a result. Unfortunately, drywall mixture at the time contained lethal levels of asbestos. 

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Mesothelioma and Drywall Tapers Explained

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer caused by inhaling or ingesting fibers from disturbed asbestos. Until the 1970s, the link between asbestos and mesothelioma was largely unknown. Many tradesmen and construction workers were exposed to asbestos daily. Drywall tapers were no exception and were exposed daily to asbestos through their profession.

Drywall tape contained asbestos to make it insulating and fire-retardant. It was the drywall tapers’ job to stick together pieces of drywall before sanding them down, which created a tremendous amount of dust. This dust contained dangerous and toxic asbestos fibers.

Mesothelioma is now a well-known health hazard in this trade, but as it can take 20-50 years to develop, the full extent of the damage remains to be seen.

History of Asbestos Exposure in Drywall Tapers

By the end of World War II, houses were commonly constructed with drywall instead of plaster to increase the rate of construction and provide homes for thousands of families.

Many argued that drywall would be an inferior solution to plaster, but the quicker process soon gathered momentum and drywalling became the go-to solution for construction in the 1950s. The process was quicker and cheaper, but it came at the expense of many workers’ lives.

The drywall process involves:

  • Covering wallboards with a putty solution
  • Filling nail holes with drywall compound
  • Sanding the drywall flat between filling
  • Blending the joints to create an even surface
  • Creating textures for design purposes (such as feature walls)
  • Monitoring and inspecting finished drywall product with a high-intensity light
Did you know?

By 1979, it was estimated that 75,000 U.S. constructions workers were employed as drywall tapers. Air samples were taken during this period and show that sanders were breathing in fiber concentrations that exceeded, by several times, government regulations.

Asbestos is not dangerous until it becomes disturbed. Once it does, the fibers become airborne and can be easily inhaled.

Highest Risk Jobs for Asbestos Exposure in Drywall Tapers

Whether a drywall taper was filling, sanding, blending or inspecting, they were bound to come into contact with asbestos fibers at some stage along the production line.

A study in 1980 showed that sanding, mixing and sweeping were higher-risk jobs as they created the most airborne asbestos dust.

Drywall tapers all worked in dusty environments, so even the workers who weren’t on sanding duty could be at as much risk from asbestos exposure, purely by breathing in the air around them. Another danger was that asbestos fibers easily attached to clothing, which the tapers would return home in and, unknowingly, expose their families.

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Today's Risks of Asbestos Exposure in Drywall Tapers

Today’s drywall mixtures contain gypsum, lime and cement, so there is no longer any asbestos used in modern-day solutions. Advancements in technology have allowed additives to reduce curing times, making today's products much safer for drywall tapers. Drywall tapers typically wear coveralls to reduce the transfer of dust fibers.

Drywall remains a hazard in older buildings. Structures built between 1950 and 1980 were created with the original drywall mixture, meaning that whenever older buildings are demolished or renovated, asbestos-containing walls have to be removed and disposed of safely.

Today, specialized asbestos teams are called in to inspect the area and make recommendations to the constructions workers. There is less of a threat to drywall tapers themselves, but drywall is still a risk to many constructions workers today.

Drywall Tapers and Asbestos Lawsuits

Around 1.25 million people in the U.S. are estimated to have been exposed to asbestos in the workplace. Many law firms are experienced in mesothelioma cases and work hard to ensure that patients who have been diagnosed get the compensation they deserve.

Personal injury lawsuits may be filed up to 3 years from diagnosis, and wrongful death lawsuits can be filed up to 3 years after death—depending on your state. While compensation will not make up for the negligence, it can help towards medical costs and loss of earnings.

If you are a veteran who has since developed mesothelioma, you may be eligible for compensation through the VA. Contact our VA-Accredited Claims Agents today for information.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

View Sources

Drywall construction and asbestos exposure. Retrieved from: Accessed: 31st March 2018.

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