Is Asbestos Hiding in the Walls of Your Home? – The Dangers of Quarantine Remodeling Projects
Part Three in a Series About Asbestos in Your House
Asbestos was widely used in drywall manufacturing across the U.S. as late as the 1970s. As you sit at home in quarantine during this COVID-19 pandemic thinking about remodeling that basement or spare bedroom, demolishing old sheetrock walls or removing outdated paneling might be in your plans. Before you start, be warned that if your home was constructed before 1980, those walls, and the joint compound that binds them, might contain the toxic mineral asbestos.
Exposure to asbestos can cause scarring of the lungs and abdominal tissue, difficulty breathing, and can be the source of diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma. There is no cure for mesothelioma, so take note of the following information before you tackle that home-remodeling project because mesothelioma is a painful cancer with no cure.
Hazards in Drywall and Paneling
If your home was built after the 1930s, your interior walls are probably at least partially constructed of drywall, which was (and still is) typically sold in four-foot by eight-foot panels. In single family dwellings these sheetrock boards did not usually include asbestos fiber, although until 1980 heavier, insulated cement boards used as firewalls between units in apartment houses and commercial buildings often did. Decorative paneling installed in mid-century homes, however, may well have contained asbestos, including panels made to look like brick, such as GAF’s Hearthglow faux-brick paneling. Asbestos panels are generally not harmful as long as they remain in one solid piece.
But if you wish to remove vintage decorative paneling and replace it with some other kind of wall surface, don’t break the sheets apart yourself. As these boards deteriorate with age, they may become very brittle. Removing them is likely to cause microscopic asbestos fibers to fly all over the room, where they will be easily breathed or ingested by anyone nearby. You can cover old wall panels with another surface treatment, so long as you don’t drill through them to secure the new wall covering. Check with your local municipality to see what is allowed in your area, and call a certified abatement professional if you want to have the old paneling taken out.
Joint Compound Dangers
Whether there is asbestos in your home’s drywall or not, most sheetrock mud (also known as wall-joint compound) which was sold between 1940 and 1980 did contain asbestos fiber. This product came in two forms and was used to fuse the seams between drywall panels once they were installed.
Throughout the middle of the last century, asbestos-containing wall-joint compound could be purchased at any hardware store as a pre-mixed paste in a bucket or can, or as a dry powder in a 25-pound sack or five-pound box (more typical for home use). The powder was dumped into a bucket and mixed with water to form a paste, then slathered onto the drywall seams with a trowel to join the gypsum boards together. When the mud was dry, it was sanded before painting, giving the finished wall a seamless, smooth appearance from top to bottom.
Dumping that box or bag of powder into a bucket caused large amounts of dust to rise up into the air and into the nostrils of whoever was doing the dumping, as well as those around him or her. Sanding the dried sheetrock mud also made lots of dust.
Have fun spiffing up that spare room, but do it safely and wisely, so that you will be around to enjoy the fruits of your labor for many seasons to come. If you have received a diagnosis of mesothelioma, contact the lawyers at Baron & Budd to receive a completely confidential evaluation of your case from one of the best rated mesothelioma law firms in the country.